Wildlife Care WA Inc. who they are and what they do
Lyn Manuel, the woman behind Wildlife Care WA Inc., welcome to the S.O.F.A Film Festival platform, thank you for taking time from a hectic schedule to speak with us. We have known Alex Cearns for a while now and are thrilled to be able to screen ‘Raising Joey’ to benefit such a worthy organisation as Wildlife Care WA Inc. Please give us a few words of introduction and your role within the organisation for our viewers just getting to know you.
Hi All, I have been a wildlife volunteer for 30 years now. I first became interested in wildlife welfare when I realised just how neglected this area of animal welfare is. It is not livestock and it is not domestic related and it receives no backing or funding from the government yet it is a vital part of our Australian culture. I would like future generations to enjoy seeing our wildlife in their natural environment and not have to go to the zoo to see a kangaroo. Just as important to me is the environment for without a healthy environment we cannot have healthy wildlife. I have raised over a hundred joeys and each and everyone has taught me so much about resilience, strength, love, and respect. I had a tattoo put on my arm to symbolize all the attributes that make a good joey mother, dedication commitment, compassion, joy and patience. I wear it with pride. Alex took this photo at one of the bushfire impacted areas.
I understand Wildlife Care WA Inc. ‘was established to meet a growing need in emergency response, coordination, relocation and education that is not currently being addressed by wildlife groups in Western Australia’. Please tell us about the background and give us a general idea of how a rescue mission works from when you receive an emergency response call. What sort of injuries, illnesses or other reasons for response to you generally deal with and what variety of animals you’ve helped. What makes a suitable relocation and release site?
It takes a whole group to raise a joey.
We were first thrown headlong into this six years ago with a significant fire in the outer metropolitan area when people started reporting injured wildlife. Along with other local wildlife groups we started a search and rescue project. We quickly realised that this was an area that was lacking in knowledge and support so we grew from there. We have since been active in five bushfires and have learnt from each one. We have attended as many workshops as we can on bushfires to gain knowledge on keeping our volunteers safe in the field. Once we establish that a post fire wildlife management plan needs to be in place for a particular fire our volunteers step up with all their special talents to plan the next step. We have people who arrange to find out what wildlife are living in the region so we know what resources we will need to take with us when we search for injured animals. We seek permission to put food and water out to bring wildlife to an area and put our cameras up at these stations. This allows us to see any injured wildlife so we can trace their location and make searching for them a lot easier.
The process of search and rescue can go on for 6 to 8 weeks after as the injured animals become weaker. We have two volunteer who are authorised to humanely euthanise any kangaroos that are too badly burnt. We often get joeys in from dead females. These joeys take many months to rear and those with burns need dressings changed daily and pain medications given, they require feeding every four hours and lots of cuddling as they miss their mums so much that they cry out for them. During the bush fire season our volunteers spend 10 to 18 hours daily on phone calls, search and rescue and care. Reptiles also suffer during fires and we network with Native Animal Rescue to take on any reptiles or birds. We have stay at home volunteers who will look after the joeys so others can go out and search. Land clearing kills many wildlife per year Not just during the clearing process of bulldozing down trees and burying ground dwelling wildlife but the after effects as well. Loss of food and habitat rates high on the list of stress for those wildlife who unlike birds cannot simply fly away and find another home. We communicate with developers and local councils to improve the outcome for the wildlife during land clearing and are on standby for any joeys who get separated from their mothers during relocations. There is a strict criteria for release site/relocation site which although does not make it easy; they ensure any wildlife moved has the best chance. We are always looking for properties that we can release our wildlife onto in safety. Donations from our loyal supporters allow us to buy petrol to keep on searching. It allows us to pay for valuable medications to treat the joeys we get into care with burns and to provide for the special milk supplement to feed the joeys who are in care for 12 to 18 months. The average cost to raise one joey in care is $1500.
The dedication of your volunteers is incredible and an inspiration. Tell us about kangaroos and what makes them such remarkable animals. Why they are so special to you.
Kangaroos to me are very spiritual animals I like to think I have a deep connection with them and have spent many hours sitting with them in the wild. This allows me to better understand the way they relate to their joeys and other members of their mob. They are very family orientated and the big males are so very gentle with the joeys. In turn this helps me understand the way I need to raise joeys so they can be released and are prepared for life in the wild. We rear them in group so when we release them they are their own little mob.
When did you first meet Alex? You’ve taken foster joeys to her studio to be photographed. We know she does an amazing job getting the best out of the animals she works with; what was a photo section with a joey like?
I met Alex many years ago when I contacted her to ask if she would do a photo shoot of a couple of joeys for our fundraising project. I don’t think Alex had any idea of just how different it is than taking photos of dogs and cats. See you cannot ask a joey to sit and you cannot bribe them with treats or toys and they never sit or stand still. Alex got the hang of it pretty quickly and she was soon able to get the most amazing photos of them by just letting them be themselves. She captures their souls in a photo and it is almost a surreal feeling. Most of the session’s end up in fits of laughter as the joeys come and jump on her head as she is lying on the floor or come up and stick their noses on the camera lens. We have taken all sorts of wildlife to her studio including reptiles and birds and even a penguin but the joeys are the most challenging as we have to be aware of their stress levels and of course they can move pretty fast. A session is not usually a long one and there have been times when after one or two photos Alex has got the perfect picture.
What was your personal experience filming ‘Raising Joey’? The destruction from the bush fires was devastating to witness on screen; the emotions you must have felt throughout the procedure must have been intense. What was the most memorable moment during the filming for you?
It was really hard to let someone other than our own volunteers into our world. We rely on each other in times of crisis our volunteers are so supportive. We can be very quiet when we are in a bushfire area or we can be very funny and loud It is just our way of coping with the pain. Often the quiet is deafening. It is like what I imagine the aftermath of a nuclear bomb must be like. The quiet is so very strange, no noise except the sound of our own breathing and the beat of our heart. Every one of your senses is assaulted. The smell of smoke and death is very strong it fills you with a sense of urgency to find the dead to see if there is a live joey around that needs help or an adult that needs to be relieved of pain. The remaining smoke burns your eyes until the tears run down your face in little rivers which is a relief as you can always blame the smoke for your tears of loss. Your skin prickles with the heat that emanates from trees that still burn inside and the ground that at times is so hot you could cook on it. The first time we took the raising joey film crew out to the bushfire area Alex was visibly moved she had not imagined the enormity of the loss of habitat and the silence, the colours of black and grey are not natural at all. No green, no flowers nothing but black and grey ash and dirt. I had a cry on Alex’s shoulder that day. It was the first time I had cried over the devastating loss and pain of our wildlife. The film crew was so very understanding.
I have been in a similar situation of ‘quiet’; it is eerie and the silence ‘deafening’, you explain the physical and emotional experience perfectly. The crew captured the sense of the enormity and reality of the situation which, unless you are there, is hard to truly understand. ‘Raising Joey’ has been accepted in some of the most prestigious film festivals worldwide; what message do you hope people will walk away with? Do you have any future films or other projects planned to continue educating on how precious and important our wildlife is?
It is hoped that people will see that for every joey that comes into care there is a tragic story behind it. For a joey to be orphaned and needing care a mum has died. Raising Joey also means raising the awareness of the plight of our Kangaroos. With the help of the raising joey team we tried to leave the audience with a hope of better things to come for our beautiful Western Australian Kangaroos. We definitely have so much of a story to tell and would welcome the chance to elaborate on the film. To us Alex is our hero she has helped so much with raising funds for us and even had a tissue fund raiser which is heaven as we can use up to three boxes of tissues a week.
Lyn thank you once again for taking time to speak with us and giving us an insight into the valuable work you do; getting to know you and the work your volunteers do has been an eye-opener for us and S.O.FA will continue to offer you our support and promote your future work to help reach as many people as possible.
I look forward to hearing from you.