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Sick, injured and orphaned wildlife

Entangled turtle

Entangled turtle

While wildlife conservation focuses on protecting native species and their habitat, at times we can also be faced with individual animals in trouble.

Animals in the wild can catch diseases, be injured, and become orphaned. If these animals live alongside human settlement they also face the added risk of being run over, attacked by dogs and cats, or entangled in barbed wire, fruit-tree netting or rubbish.

A wild animal that is sick, injured or orphaned and can't care for itself may require special treatment and rehabilitation from a trained wildlife carer or a vet.

The following information will help you to get a wild animal in trouble to a wildlife carer as quickly as possible.

First aid

First, make sure that you are safe. Don't try to handle an injured animal or put yourself in a situation where there is a risk that you could also be injured. Handling may also cause further injury to the animal (see tips on handling below). Remember, do not handle any bat (flying-foxes or microbats) unless you have appropriate training and a current vaccination against Australian Bat Lyssavirus.

For advice, or to have the animal rescued, contact the RSPCA Qld.

If your enquiry relates to crocodile sightings, injured, sick or orphaned cassowaries or C3 bats (a bat that has bitten or scratched a person, or the person has had exposure to the bat’s saliva or neural tissue through their mucous membranes, e.g. eye), contact the department.

Your local vet may also provide advice.

  • If possible, remove the animal from the source of the threat (e.g. take it off a road or out of a swimming pool) and place it somewhere safe and quiet.
  • If the animal can be handled, safely confine it (e.g. wrap it in a towel and place in a closed cardboard box) so that it's warm and quiet. You may be advised to take it to a licensed wildlife carer for treatment and rehabilitation. You can also contact your local vet for help.

Handling injured wild animals

Injured wild animals won't want to be handled, and are likely to defend themselves and try to escape. You should therefore handle them in a way that ensures they won't struggle and cause further injury or additional stress.

Wear gloves or use a thick towel or jumper to restrain an animal while you are handling it, to protect yourself from scratches or bites. Try to get the animal into a warm, quiet, enclosed space as quickly as possible (e.g. wrap it in a towel and place it in a secure cardboard box). Make sure that any container you use is adequately ventilated.

The survival of a stressed wild animal may depend on it's being kept warm and quiet, so don't continually open up the container to look at the animal or show it to others.

If you are unsure about handling an animal just keep it safe until skilled help arrives.

Transporting injured animals

When transporting an injured animal, restrain the container inside a vehicle and cover it so that the animal can't escape. Drive carefully—speeding only puts other lives at risk.

Make sure the wildlife carer or vet receiving the animal is prepared to care for it as soon as you arrive. Tell them where you found the animal, so that it can be released in the same area when it is rehabilitated. This information also helps to identify and manage 'black spots' where significant numbers of sick or injured wild animals are being found.

Caring for injured wildlife yourself

Caring for injured wildlife yourself is only an option if you have the necessary skills and knowledge, and have a rehabilitation permit issued by the department. Wildlife carers must also follow a Code of Practice. Under The Animal Care and Protection Act 2001, they are legally bound to provide for the welfare of animals under their care. If you are keen to become involved in wildlife rehabilitation, contact your nearest wildlife care group or the Queensland Wildlife Rehabilitation Council (QWRC).

Anyone caring for native animals has to be prepared to treat them as wild animals. Releasing them back into their natural environment is the goal, and is a requirement under the Nature Conservation Act 1992. It is therefore important to minimise human contact, so the animals retain their ability to fend for themselves when re-introduced to the wild.

Sick and injured wild animals that cannot be rehabilitated and will never be able to survive in the wild may have to be euthanased by a vet or wildlife carer. Though this is disturbing to anyone involved in wildlife care, it may be the only option when an animal is in pain or will never be able to survive as a wild animal.

Animals that have already died

If you find a recently dead marsupial like a possum or a koala, check to see if has any live young in its pouch, as it may be possible to rehabilitate them and eventually release them back into the wild.

Dead wildlife may also be of interest to the department if:

  • the animal has a tag or a radio collar, as it may be part of a research program and any information about it will be important
  • the animal is unusual for that area or belongs to a threatened species.
Last reviewed
25 May 2016
Last updated
30 August 2011