Mel Bell tends to the rescued possum
Australian wildlife needs us. From not feeding birds, to reducing our speeds, to replanting rainforest, we are the ones who can save and help increase the wildlife population of this beautiful hinterland. HT’s Gay Liddington met with WILVOS member, Mel Bell, to hear more about the creatures we share this space with and how we can help them.
by Gay Liddington
Speaking with Mel Bell, Maleny wildlife carer and member of WILVOS (Wildlife Volunteers Association Inc.) I am reminded of lyrics written by Pete Seeger in the late 50s,
Where have all the flowers gone, long time passing…
Mel moved to Maleny almost two years ago and describes herself as ‘a bit of a mad old possum lady’. Previously she was a carer for eight years with a Sydney wildlife rescue group. Possums, bandicoots, antechinus and birds have all found their way into Mel’s care.
“You spend a lot of time feeding and looking after possums. I now have specialist knowledge, whereas another WILVOS member Sammy Ringer specialises in bats.
“Most people don’t know that Bat Rescue will provide free heavy-duty, wildlife-friendly netting to homeowners for their fruit trees.
“Sammy does an enormous amount of rescues of all kinds of wildlife. We have about six carers in Maleny, a number we would like to increase. The less carers and support you’ve got, the more it impacts on those doing it,” said Mel.
Looking through the eyes of a newcomer, Mel’s gaze scans the land around her North Maleny property.
“This is all relatively new growth. A friend who lives nearby planted a rainforest when she moved here about 30 years ago. She said it was a 360-degree clear view back then.
“It seems that a lot of people are planting rainforest and native trees. I’m also aware of a working group that tends the gully near Hakea Street. As a result of their plantings the bird population has increased.”
While it is obvious that many Hinterland residents care about the wildlife there is also the flipside. Mel shares a story she calls, the Baroon Pocket carnage.
“A carer at Witta was manning the hotline and took a call about an injured wallaby on Baroon Pocket Road. It was reported that a wallaby had been knocked down by a car and the joey hopped away. Sammy and I attended in the hope we could find the joey which would certainly die if unattended. We didn’t find it.
“A woman from Sunshine Coast Wildlife Rescue was there and had euthanised the injured mother, a red-necked wallaby.
“While at the scene we realised that there was another injured wallaby in the grass right near where we were sitting. It was completely smashed.
“At that point the police arrived. They euthanised that animal then on checking, we found a joey in its pouch. It was not viable and taken to the vet. That was four animals gone in one hit.
“Another call came a few days later. A big male wallaby had been hit in that same spot.
“We talked to the neighbours. They said that even though it’s an 80km speed limit, cars come belting down there and anything that’s crossing particularly at dawn or dusk doesn’t stand a chance. So, we’ve lost a whole mob of wallabies, a little family just in that one spot,” Mel shared still distressed and frustrated by the experience.
Local veterinarian support is integral to the work of WILVOS. Mel has high praise for their care.
“The Australia Zoo Wildlife Hospital is a separate facility located at the back of the zoo. The public can have a ‘sneak peek’ from the viewing area where you can watch operations. The staff are so patient even though they’re stretched to the limit. We don’t know how lucky we to have that place.
“Also, our vets are wonderful. The don’t get paid for tending native wildlife. It’s a voluntary service.”
It is obvious that the care of our wildlife is not a WILVOS issue but a community responsibility. There are a multitude of ways that we can assist.
Plant native trees. Put out bowls of water in dry weather but don’t feed the birds or animals. I was taken aback to learn that giving birds a bowl of sunflower seeds is like giving them a bowl of lollies.
Mindfulness when driving is key to wildlife conservation. Slow down and be watchful, particularly at dawn and dusk.
A learning curve for me from my discussion with Mel was to put the wildlife hotline and emergency numbers in my phone. I relate to the fact that people can be shocked or panicked if they hit an animal. Allow those with training to guide you as to the best course of action.
“It’s not just about caring for wildlife, people can help in other ways: join WILVOS, train to man the wildlife hotline, be an online warrior and lobby your local MP about deforestation. People can knit or sew pouches or assist by transporting animals.”
At the time of our chat Mel was caring for a young adult ringtail possum rescued from Maleny’s Riverside Centre. She named him Andy.
“He was sitting in a tree being attacked by birds. I took the possum to the wildlife hospital. They removed the ticks, cleaned its wounds then I brought it home with a week’s supply of antibiotics.”
To conclude, Sammy Ringer hits home a message: “As Maleny grows more populous, the homes of our wildlife shrinks. Bushland is flattened, trees lopped, former habitat clear-felled to make way for yet another ‘lifestyle development’. The critters that live there are savagely evicted.”
With Sammy’s words echoing I reach back to Pete Seeger’s lyrics wondering if one day we’ll say: Where have all the wildlife gone, long time passing…and ask, when will we ever learn, when will we ever learn?
Australia Zoo Wildlife Hospital Emergency Hotline: 1300 369 652
WILVOS 24-hour Hotline: 5441 6200