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Caring for Tasmania’s wildlife with Susie Buetow

Susie Buetow (pronouns: she/her)is a registered wildlife carer and co-founder of Wild Hearts Wildlife Rescue in southern Tasmania, Australia. Susie specialises in Bare-nosed Wombats, Tasmanian Pademelons and Bennett’s Wallabies and cares for many animals each year to give them a second chance of survival.  With only around 300 active wildlife carers across Tasmania at the moment but approximately 2000 animals in need of support and rehabilitation per year, this service is not only important but in desperate need of expansion. Susie and her partner also run a small boat business together called Wild Ocean Tasmania which facilitates marine research in this beautiful part of the world.

We speak all about Susie’s experience as a wildlife carer, ways you can get involved if you are passionate about caring for orphaned and injured wildlife, managing your mental health and why you don’t need a degree to make a difference!

Caring for Tasmania’s wildlife with Susie Buetow | #itsawildlife

SUSIE’S STORY

Originally from Germany, Susie first came to Tasmania in 2007 on holidays and fell madly in love with the landscape and its inhabitants.

“I clearly remember the first night in Tassie, I was just blown away by the wildlife I encountered – all the little hoppies that came out of the bush”

During her stay, Susie encountered the wildlife in their natural habitat and was so excited to learn more about them. When she later has the chance to move permanently to Tasmania, Susie jumped at the opportunity and almost immediately, she was offered a job at a wildlife park.

This role gave her the chance to take on her first joey – a truly magical experience for Susie which helped her to find her true passion for wildlife care. Ever since then, she has had animals in care non-stop for 10 years now.

Susie and her partner started Wild Hearts Rescue, a private sanctuary for wildlife rehabilitation and care.

“The Sanctuary sounds very big and involved, but it’s just us two really. We try to take on as many animals as we can every season, but you really have to be careful not to take on too many!”

THREATS TO AUSTRALIAN WILDLIFE

While habitat loss and alteration, as well as the introduction of feral predators have had a devastating impact on Australia’s native flora and fauna, these can often feel like big problems, beyond any individual’s power of influence. Many of us don’t realise there are several other threats to wildlife that we can control including road collisions and diseases.

Roads

Tasmania is known as the roadkill capital of the world with statistics suggesting between 300,000 and 500,000 animals die every year on the roads in Tasmania. That’s one animal every two minutes!

Driving at 80 km/h would probably save about 50% of the animals that die every year.

Sarcoptic mange

Sarcoptic mange is a preventable disease caused by the parasitic mite, Sarcoptes scabiei. The mite burrows into the skin of its host causing thick, crusty skin, and hair loss. Underground burrows provide excellent conditions for the mites to thrive and spread between wombats. If left untreated, wombats often scratch themselves so much that they end up with open wounds and secondary infections. This usually results in a slow and painful death of affected individuals.

BECOMING A CARER AND HELPING OUT

If you are in Tasmania and interested in becoming a wildlife carer, contact Susie at Wild Hearts Rescue or Bonorong Wildlife Sanctuary who run courses to teach people how to become wildlife carers. This is a great first step if you think you could have capacity to take animals into care.

“It is a 24-hour job, but it is so rewarding – and I just couldn’t imagine a life without the little animals anymore. It’s so nice to have them around and you learn so much from raising them as well”

And while not everyone can be a wildlife carer, there are so many other things that people can do in their day-to-day lives to help Australian wildlife, which is pretty important. Ways to become involved in wildlife care without taking animals into care include:

  • Become a wildlife rescuer

This role involves receiving messages when members of the public find injured wildlife in your area, going out to assess the situation and helping with the first response.

“It’s a really good thing to do if you don’t have the time to become a carer. You collect the joeys, perhaps even take it in and keep it in a dark and secure environment for a few hours until a carer is found.”

This really frees up the carers who might have joeys that need feeding at home and don’t have the time to drive four hours to collect an animal.

  • Collecting browse (picking leaves and grasses for hungry herbivores in care)
  • Public education and fundraising
  • Register your backyard as land for wildlife – and work to improve the native habitat to attract wildlife to your garden by planting trees and protecting hollows.
  • Keep wildlife wild and don’t feed wild animals human food.
  • Check pouches and report wombats with mange

MANAGING YOUR MENTAL HEALTH AS A CARER

With so many animals requiring care and too few carers with time on their hands, the demands of a 24-7 role like wildlife care can be hard – both physically and mentally. The reality of this industry is that although it is such a needed resource, it is heavily under-resourced and often un-funded. Consequently, many carers can experience emotional overwhelm, burnout and compassion fatigue. We spoke with Susie about ways to manage your mental health in order to continue to throw your heart into the positive work that is so needed to care for wildlife.

“The less glamorous parts of the role can be long hours spent cleaning, checking roadkill or dealing with suffering animals that either won’t make it or don’t have a carer to go to”

“And with a constant stream of animals needing care it can be quite overwhelming when you’re a compassionate person.”

Ways to maintain your mental health as a carer include:

  • Know your limits and don’t push beyond them to take additional animals into care

“It’s not fair on you or the animals involved”

  • You need to be able to take breaks and do fun things for yourself every now and again
  • Know where to find help. ‘Two Green Threads’ offers support and resources for wildlife carers

ARE YOU QUALIFIED FOR WILDLIFE CARE?

You don’t need a degree to become a wildlife carer – and you don’t need to be a scientist to make a difference! Susie is living breathing proof of the positive impact you can have for wildlife care and conservation without a piece of paper.

“As long as you are passionate about it and as long as you have the drive in yourself to do something about it, to help the animals, help nature and fight biodiversity loss, please don’t feel like you have to have a degree because there’s so much that you can achieve without it!”

While education can be an important part of a journey in wildlife science- it can also become a privilege, a barrier to passionate people getting involved and helping out.

Susie did distance studies in sports and tourism management (a different story) but while she and her partner don’t have a scientific degree, they can care for injured and orphaned wildlife in Tasmania and they are also able to support marine researchers through their business, Wild Ocean Tasmania, by partnering with scientists and research organisations.

“For example, in 2020, we set up the Tasmanian Fluke Project with our friend and marine biologist Dr. Maddie Brasier. We collect data and track Humpback Whales in Tasmanian waters by taking photos of their fluke patterns. The project has been very successful and the data will hopefully help scientists provide evidence that Tasmania’s east coast is an area of importance for Humpback Whales.”

So again,

“You don’t need a science degree to be able to do that. We’re passionate about it and so we just found one way that works for us to contribute. And I think, whatever field you may work in or whatever passion you may have, there can be a way for everyone to incorporate that into projects for nature and wildlife conservation.”

KEEP IN TOUCH

Want to hear more about Wild Hearts from Susie? Tune into the podcast or follow them on Instagram @wildheartsrescue. You can also check out the website for more information about the work they do at Wild Hearts Sanctuary, and for information on how you can get involved or support the cause, as well as what to do when you find injured or sick wildlife.

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