Hunter Wildlife Rescue carers in Port Stephens aiding sick and injured animals

Rescue carer Michelle Wilkinson-Beards, from One Mile, with the latest rescued joey who is yet to be named.
Rescue carer Michelle Wilkinson-Beards, from One Mile, with the latest rescued joey who is yet to be named.

The dedication of volunteer carers at Hunter Wildlife Rescue (HWR) - started in 1978 as the first volunteer wildlife rescue group to operate in NSW - is a sight to behold.

"It's a fulltime job caring, nursing, toileting, feeding and parenting sick and injured animals. Carers treat them just like their own children," says carer Michelle Wilkinson-Beards who, with her partner Michael Reilly operates the Melaleuca Surfside Backpackers property at Boat Harbour.

And it's all voluntary, in fact it can not only be an around-the-clock job, some nights getting up every two to four hours to feed baby joeys, but also costly, where members would often foot the bill or rely on community donations for such items as milk powder, food, warm pouches, pillows and pillow cases, bird cages ... the list goes on.

Currently, Michelle and Michael have three kangaroos in care, the youngest taken arriving at their expansive 2.5-hectare property just a fortnight ago after being found abandoned at the Nelson Bay golf course.

"She's about six months old and still needs to be bottle fed. otherwise she is healthy," said Michelle.

Because kangaroos live in large groups, Michelle's newest arrival [yet to be named] will be buddied up with a mob of roos similar in age to be released back into the wild once she has been weened off her milk [in about four months' time].

"Being able to successfully reunite a joey with her mob is the most rewarding part of the job and makes all the long hours worthwhile. But unfortunately it doesn't always end up that way," she said.

"We do lose a few along the way, which is also one of the reasons why we have issues retaining volunteer staff, for some carers the loss of baby wildlife can be awfully confronting."

Rescue carer Michelle Wilkinson-Beards, from One Mile, with the latest rescued joey who is yet to be named.

Rescue carer Michelle Wilkinson-Beards, from One Mile, with the latest rescued joey who is yet to be named.

The Melaleuca backpackers resembles a menagerie with all types of wildlife - flora and fauna - adorning the site both indoors and outdoors. In addition to the joeys, there are possums, gliders, geese, birds and even a couple of wildlife-friendly dogs.

"We have many international visitors staying here and they love the animals, even to the extent of helping out. We provide an educational experience, giving people who come from all parts of the world as well as local visitors a better understanding of Australia's wildlife."

Michelle said that the drought has had a devastating effect on local wildlife, particularly on the Port Stephens kangaroo, wallaby and possum populations.

"These animals are very active during the night and during drought periods they tend to venture close to the roadways where there is more vegetation," she said.

"We can't stress enough to motorists to be watchful when driving at night and to slow down along back roads as well as major thoroughfares such as Nelson Bay Road, Lemon Tree Passage Road and Richardson Road.

"It is just as important that if you do come across an injured animal to contact the rescue service. Some people may be hesitant to do that because they believe they have to pay for any vet bills, but that is not the case. The cost is picked up by the rescue service."

She also warned residents of the issue with dog and cat attacks.

"Pet owners do need to be more vigilant, again particularly at night when the wildlife are most active."

The HWR facility located in Newcastle also operates as an educational centre, open to the community where the public can take injured wildlife; inquire about volunteering, learn more about the diversity of wildlife found in the Hunter area.

The hotline number is 0418 628 483.

An orphaned squirrel glider in rehabilitation with carers from the Hunter Wildlife Rescue service.

An orphaned squirrel glider in rehabilitation with carers from the Hunter Wildlife Rescue service.

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