Years ago, back in the 1980s, we were living on our boat which was safely moored on the Marina at Coffs Harbour. As a friend was visiting from interstate, we had access to a car for a few days, and the three of us were off exploring the hinterland. One afternoon we were pottering along the road, just enjoying the change of scenery...the newness of everything when we spotted what seemed to be an injured bird on the road. We stopped and had a look and it was indeed very much alive but somehow incapacitated, and my soft heart knew we had to do something to help it. We gently wrapped it in a jumper and headed off in the car again. There was a little pub just down the road (which turned out to be the iconic Pub With No Beer, made famous by the song by Slim Dusty)and we decided to ask there if anyone knew of a local wildlife carer. As luck would have it, the publican knew of a woman who cared for injured birds and animals and gave us directions to her home. It was quite a drive and I can't remember now which direction we travelled, but on the way...a flock of tiny birds flew down in front of the car and we hit some of them. I can remember being so upset at the irony of trying to rescue one bird and in the process killing more...but we were on a mission by this stage and had to carry on.
We found the wildlife carer at home. As we'd been told she was always home as she had so many little creatures to care for! Young orphaned joeys can need feeding as often as every hour and a half, so it takes a certain dedication to take on this kind of job. She identified the little bird we had found as a Nightjar and was happy to care for it as she had several enclosures with injured owls and other nocturnal birds. Lucky little bird! Whilst we were there she gave us a guided tour of her home. It was a large, brick home with concrete floors. She said they hadn't bothered with floor coverings because the concrete was easy to clean. There were blanket 'pouches' slung on the back of every chair and lounge...secret places for young joeys to rest and sleep and grow. A couple of older joeys were out of pouches and no doubt part of the reason for the easy clean floors! We were so pleased to have a successful outcome for our mission. The little Nightjar would be well cared for and rehabilitated in the best possible place. Still, I was disquieted by the flock of little birds that had crossed our path with not such a happy outcome.
Fast forward to the present...
Yesterday I travelled with my son up to Bonorong Wildlife Park north of Hobart to attend what I thought was an information session on how to care for injured animals. As a teacher, I just thought it might be interesting to find out more about how wildlife carers look after their little patients. It turned out to be several hours of information which comprised the course to become a Wildlife Rescuer. There were probably thirty or more people attending and we were on the receiving end of a long and very informative talk about how to attend and rescue Australian native animals and transport them safely to carers or vets for necessary treatment or euthanasia. Some interesting and shocking statistics were presented; over half a million native animals are killed on Tasmanian roads each year. Of all the rescued animals somewhere near 80% are euthanased. The point in rescuing these animals is to reduce the time and level of suffering as they die slowly and painfully if left unattended, either as a direct result of their injuries, through infection or from starvation when they can't get about normally to feed and water themselves. It is a compassionate service. The upside is knowing that the remaining 20% are rehabilitated and most returned to their bush-land homes. It's important to note just where the animal was found to allow this to happen. Many animals do not fare well if they are not returned to the right place where they can reconnect with their own families and where they are familiar with the area. Possums, by the way, cannot be relocated. They will quickly be killed by other possums that already live in the new area.
The day commenced at one thirty and in my mind it was probably going to be a couple of hours perhaps. In fact it was around four hours with a half hour break in the middle. It was fascinating and I now know, in theory at least, how to extract a joey from the pouch of many different animals. I know that an elongated teat in a pouch means there may be a young joey not far away. I also know how (again, in theory!) to safely remove a possum from a firebox, and what to carry in a rescuer 'kit'. I can practice making sounds to lure orphaned joeys closer to allow me to capture them. But the problem began with the realisation that the day was not going to end in time for us to drive home before dark.
Now I have, for a long time, avoided night driving. I have on occasion hit wallabies, a cat, a dog, several birds, rabbits and a possum whilst night driving. This has occurred over a driving career spanning some thirty-seven years, and over countryside from Central Queensland to Southern Tasmania. Each one has nearly ripped my heart out at the time, and as I've become older I've slowly decided that it's better not to go out at night. If my going out means a wee animal gets run over then I'd rather stay home! I know some of you will think that's silly, and of course I do still go out at night sometimes. I drive slowly at night. I think of darkness as a road condition and I drive accordingly. I like to give myself time if things go pear-shaped. I drive a small car. A lot of damage can occur to me and my car if things go wrong. The lights in my small car seem not bright enough, not far reaching enough, for me to hurtle along at daytime speeds. And the animals we are talking about here...Australian wildlife...are for the most part nocturnal.
The problem was that I was still struck by the Irony Bug from that afternoon near The Pub With No Beer, and I was almost sure that driving home in the dark after a day learning how to rescue injured animals, would result in me running something over! I was consumed by anxiety and considered leaving early to avoid the night drive. I conferred with the instructor who informed me that if I left early I wouldn't be able to be on the register as a rescuer. Now, for a moment or two I thought...well, you know, I didn't actually come along today to become a rescuer, but just to learn a bit more about how to care for wild animals...but then again, as I'm here and I've learned so much, it would be a shame not to stay and hear the rest. Dilemma. Would hitting an animal on the way home mean that I was a terrible person...or that the day was wasted? No. I needed to remember that for the Nightjar it was a good thing that we came along. I have to remember that there is so much I cannot control or be responsible for. I can only do my best. I can slow down and drive mindfully, but I can't stop doing things...not unless I retire from life in our society and become a recluse. Sometimes that can sound tempting, but perhaps I can do some good while I'm out and about and just maybe I'll fill in those forms to become a registered wildlife rescuer. I suffer like many of us, from knowing there is so much to do in this world...small things can seem insignificant and not worth doing in the face of the wall of 'everything that is wrong'. Sometimes it's easier to do nothing and pretend that everything is okay.
Well, we stayed for the duration and the drive home was relatively uneventful. We didn't see any animals until we were very close to home and then it was a few scattery rabbits that are not native and that do considerable damage to the environment, in some areas even endangering the survival of native animal populations. So last night driving home, and arriving home without killing any little creatures on the way, kind of set me free from the Irony Bug. Just because I go to do a good thing doesn't mean that a bad thing will happen on the way. It's funny how things can play in and on our minds over such long periods of time. I will still do my best to keep night driving to a minimum. I wonder if as I'm aging and slowing down a bit (I love that I'm not in a hurry and can enjoy the moments...and I hate being pushed along the highways and byways by drivers who think there is nothing more important than getting to where they are going as fast as possible)...I wonder if I'm just becoming one of those fuddy-duddy drivers that used to annoy me when I was young. I hope people, young and older, might understand and make a few more allowances for slower drivers. Perhaps we've just come to treasure life a little more as we discover that it doesn't last forever and that it can be taken from us so very quickly and unexpectedly. Perhaps we know that it's better to arrive later, a little less stressed and having enjoyed the journey.
Watch out for slow drivers and back off a bit. Allow them to drive at a speed that they feel safe and in control of their vehicle. One day you might just need the same consideration. I hope you live long enough for that to happen. Watch out for little animals on the road. We are in their way. This is their home and we have invaded it with our monstrous killing machines that stun with blinding light and terrify with roaring motors, rushing headlong out of the darkness. Mindless metal mashers of warm, furry flesh and blood. Oh, and if you're in Tasmania, do consider getting long to Bonorong Wildlife Park and helping to support the great work they do...perhaps even sit in on the next Rescuer course. You'll learn lots, and although they now have about 1,000 rescuers on their books, they reckon on needing a network of about 4,000 to do the job well.
Have a great day, or a great night, and don't let fear or the Irony Bug stop you from doing the things you'd like to. Make a difference. Sometimes you'll feel anxious, sometimes you'll feel afraid...but in the end most of that stuff is just in our heads and reality is a pretty good place to live.