Have you ever considered working as a wildlife keeper? For lovers of wildlife, there’s nothing more satisfying than helping sick or injured wildlife. Bonorong Wildlife Sanctuary in Tasmania operates a 24-hour rescue service and their army of volunteers and wildlife keepers help save thousands of animals.
According to wildlife keeper Melinda Hunt, the majority of wildlife at Bonorong are orphaned or injured, such as Tina the Bare-nosed wombat.
Tina was riding in her mother’s pouch when she was killed by a car. A passer-by checked the dead wombat, found it was a female and located Tina still in the pouch mostly uninjured. Joeys (the name for all marsupial young) can survive in their dead mother’s pouch for up to three days. She has now been in care since she was five months of age and will be released when she ‘turns’ into a teenager between the age of two and three years.
Most of Bonorong’s wildlife are from Tasmania but some are transferred from other wildlife parks for breeding programs. Others are non-native species that cannot be released into the wild. The sanctuary also has some bird species that have become unwanted pets.
I caught up up with wildlife keeper Melinda Hunt, who landed her dream job after completing a 12-week internship at Bonorong. Here are some insights.
How did you get such a great job?
I became frustrated in my office job and being an outdoorsy person who liked lots of physical exercise and didn’t mind getting dirty, I thought applying for a wildlife-keeping internship sounded like just the ticket!
What’s a typical working day like?
I work 8am to 5pm. After the morning meeting, I rake all the walking paths, clean enclosures and do the feeding routines and orphan rounds (including administering medical treatment).
After I’m done with my morning routine there’s the enrichment routine. Jobs could include collecting native grasses to use as nesting material, raking leaves and kangaroo poo (they free-roam the sanctuary and make a big mess!). Other tasks range from mundane activities like cleaning out gutters and rearranging enclosures to leading personal and daily tours for guests.
Tell us about the animals
The animals are mostly native Australian and endemic Tasmanian animals such as Tasmanian devils, wombats, Forester kangaroos, Tasmanian bettongs, sulphur-crested cockatoos, yellow-tailed black cockatoos, spotted-tail quolls and eastern quolls.
Bonorong Wildlife Sanctuary occupies 11.33ha of native vegetation (approximately half the size of Taronga Zoo) and has 24 native species (averaging 200 individuals) permanently on display and routinely cares for up to 40 animals behind the scenes.
Do you have favourite animal friends?
Fred the 100-year-old sulphur-crested cockatoo was bequeathed to Bonorong Wildlife Sanctuary through a will. Working with Fred helped me overcome my fear of birds and now we are the greatest of mates.
Then there’s Quack, a galah who came in as a result of being clipped by a car. Quack has a head trauma and initially did somersaults on the floor of his cage. I took him home for 18 months and now he is a permanent resident and hangs out with two other galahs. He’s healthy and happy and loves cuddles with all of the keepers (and guests who are game enough to offer their fingers through the cage!). Galahs cannot be released as they are not native to Tasmania.
Zuri is a female Tasmanian devil born at Bonorong Wildlife Sanctuary as part of our breeding program. She is petite and has a sweet nature (unlike her sister Betty!). I was afraid she would get bossed around by her dominant sister and grouchy cousin Zodwa. But Zuri holds her own. She even steals food off the others when she’s feeling brave.
What do you love about being a wildlife keeper?
Helping to raise the injured and orphaned critters then saying goodbye on their release day.
What’s the worst thing about your job?
Not having a wildlife-only veterinary hospital in Tasmania and seeing animals suffer for longer than necessary. Bonorong is currently raising funds to build Tasmania’s first wildlife-only hospital on site. We are very close!
What’s one thing most people wouldn’t know about Tasmania’s wildlife?
Wombats do cube-shaped scats (poos!). We do not know how they magically produce a square shape out of a round hole but we know why. They are very anti-social animals and mark their territory with their smelly scats. They leave their scats at the highest point possible so the smell travels the farthest distance. If the scats were round they would roll to a lower point and the smell wouldn’t travel so far, hence reducing the size of their home range.
Are Tasmanian devils dangerous?
No, devils are not dangerous. They do not attack people but will defend themselves if they’re attacked or trapped. They look fierce but they actually prefer to run away than fight. However, it’s important to remember that devils have powerful jaws and when they do bite, they can cause serious injury.
What can a visitor learn about kangaroos?
Well, kangaroos can have three babies at a time – one just out of the pouch while another is developing in the pouch as well as an embryo. They usually have one young annually and the joey remains in the pouch for nine months. It suckles until its 12 to 17 months old. .
How can the public get involved with the wildlife at Bonorong?
Through our Wildlife Rescue Program
For more places to see wildlife in Tasmania go to www.discovertasmania.com.au