Wildlife warriors ready to hit the road to save lives

Australia’s largest mobile wildlife hospital is now complete and ready to step up as temperatures soar during the peak of summer – and it looks like it may soon have a new truck to call its own too.

Hot and dry weather, coupled with an extended period of severe drought, fuelled the flames of last summer’s bushfires, which wreaked absolute havoc.

One of the worst bushfire disasters in Australia’s history, the 2019/2020 fires burned through approximately 17 million hectares, killed 33 people and left up to 3 billion animals killed or displaced.

With bushfire season now upon us, the Byron Bay Wildlife Hospital is hoping it can help save as many animals as possible if disaster strikes again.

The new mobile wildlife hospital was officially launched in November at a sell-out fundraising event, but it didn’t yet have its own truck. Though it looks like that may soon change. As we were going to print, discussions were underway with Volvo Group about the prospect of a new donated prime mover – and things were looking quite promising. Just before Christmas, the Byron Bay Wildlife Hospital was hooked up to a shiny new Volvo Globetrotter for a national media launch.

Without any government funding, the Byron Bay Wildlife Hospital relies entirely on the generosity of donations to keep it going. At the moment it operates mainly from its one-hundred-acre base in Byron Bay and relies on loaned prime movers to get it to wherever it needs to be.

“We would love a prime mover to be there for when it’s needed. In the beginning our primary objective was getting the trailer built. Now that that’s done, we need to be able to deploy it as soon as it’s needed. Having our own prime mover would just be a godsend,” said Byron Bay Animal Hospital Founder, Director and CEO, Dr Stephen Van Mil.

Van Mil founded the hospital along with fellow wildlife veterinarian Dr Evan Kosack. They wanted to develop a wildlife hospital unlike any other. So rather than going down the usual path of putting it in a building, they had it built into a semi-trailer so it could travel anywhere in Australia to care for injured animals.

Byron Bay Wildlife Hospital Directors Dr Larry Vogelnest and Gerry Lambert; Director and Secretary Meadow Greenwood; Co-founders and Directors Dr Evan Kosack and Dr Stephen Van Mil; and Chairman and Director Dr David Blyde. Pic: Kirra Pendergast.

The mobile hospital was designed by architect Fiona Gibson from Sanctuary Design Studio. This design was then brought to life by engineer and chassis builder Richard Gallagher and Vansite Managing Director Grant Gasnier.

The result is a 14.6m custom built trailer that serves as a fully functioning wildlife animal hospital.

It’s fully self-sufficient, as it’s equipped with solar power, satellite communications, its own water supply, waste storage, and diagnostic, operating and patient recovery areas. This means it can be up and running within minutes of arriving at its destination.

“This is one of the largest builds we’ve undertaken. It’s certainly the most unique, and because it’s for such an important cause, we’re honoured to be involved,” said Gasnier.

The Byron Bay Animal Hospital became a reality thanks to a crowdfunding campaign, which raised in excess of $574,000 – $325,000 of which came from a very generous anonymous donor.

As Van Mil explained, “The concept came about before last summer’s bushfires hit. The nearby Currumbin Wildlife Hospital in Queensland has 12,000 admissions a year. It’s the busiest wildlife hospital in the world – so we figured that the Northern Rivers of NSW needed its own dedicated wildlife hospital too.

“We knew we needed a hospital that we could put to service quickly. We figured that by going mobile, we could have it built quickly, we wouldn’t need to wait on any councils for approvals, and when disaster hits, we can go anywhere that’s required.

“When the catastrophic bushfires of last summer hit, we realised this sort of hospital was critical. Bushfires are going to happen again, hopefully not at that level.

“During those bushfires I wish we had six of these mobile animal hospitals to go all over Australia. At the time, our mobile hospital was still waiting to be built.”

Wildlife and exotic animal veterinarian, Dr Bree Talbot, will be at the hospital’s frontline. “The mobile wildlife hospital can facilitate immediate response to injured and traumatised native animals during a crisis, such as a bushfire. Within minutes of arrival our team of wildlife expert vets will be dressing wounds and administering fluids, pain relief and medication,” she said.

“It means we can begin treatment before severe clinical signs, infection or dehydration sets in.”

Van Mil estimates that around 10,000 animals will come through the mobile hospital in its first year.

“What we’ve effectively built is an entire veterinary hospital on wheels. When animals come in, we assess them all immediately and one of three things happen.

“Sadly, some will need to be euthanised straight away, some will be assessed and go back to carers or into the wild, and some will come into the hospital. About a third of the animals that come in will go to the hospital, and we have the capacity for that of course.”

So what will having a truck of its own mean for the Byron Bay Wildlife Hospital?

“It means we’ve got freedom. It means we don’t have to scramble around and find out if someone is available. When we get that call, they are going to need us there now. It could be anywhere in Australia, and we need to be able to hit the road as quickly as possible.

“When wildlife gets injured, time is critical. If you leave a koala sitting in a basket for two days, the chance of it surviving is greatly reduced. If you can treat it straight away, it makes a big difference.”

For more information or to donate, please click here.

The Byron Bay Wildlife Hospital is also running a truck naming competition, which will be open until midnight Sunday 31 January 2021. For info, please click here

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