WARNING: this piece contains accounts which may distress some readers.
I thought long and hard about whether to write this post, after much soul searching I have decided that it’s a story I want people to know about.
Around 12 months ago I decided to become a volunteer at the wildlife sanctuary at Ettamogah (now called “Ozy wildlife”), while my expectations weren’t terribly high, when I got there what I saw was nothing short of shocking.
I was there less than a week, I quickly came to the realisation that I was going to be unable to do anything to improve conditions for the animals there, and I could not in good conscience be a part of a system so derelict in it’s care of the animals entrusted to it’s care.
I made a detailed report to the RSPCA and I left.
The first thing you have to realise about the site itself, is that it uses water pumped directly from the paper mill.
Ever driven past the paper mill and smelled the sickening stench of putrid stagnant water? That’s the very same which is pumped to the wildlife sanctuary as drinking water for the animals.
Over recent years we’ve seen a few incidents in the media about the sanctuary, most horrifyingly cases where people have broken in after hours, sometimes with hunting dogs and rifles. Dead and wounded animals were left for some time before the survivors beyond help could be humanely euthanized.
I discovered several more incidents had been kept out of the media, cases of animal theft, animals from the sanctuary had found their way into the cruel black market trade in native animals before being rescued by customs officers.
There was at least one other incident where enclosed dingoes had escaped their enclosure and had mauled a number of kangaroos and joeys. Several animal deaths had resulted.
When I was there, the perimeter fence was extremely flimsy, in some places it appeared in danger of collapse, it was not topped with barbed wire or any other form of intruder deterrent, the site itself is unattended outside the sanctuary’s opening hours.
In the main visitor centre there were a number of reptiles housed in cramped, makeshift conditions, in many cases modified wardrobes and second hand furniture items were being used to house these animals.
A number of rats were being bred on site to provide food for some of the predators, the rats were killed by being placed in a plastic bin and having a rock or a brick dropped on them, I witnessed several incidents where the animal was not killed humanely on one occasion the animal was hit four seperate times with a brick before being killed.
I noticed a number of the enclosures appeared to be improperly equipped to deal with the animal’s needs, most notibly the dingo enclosure, an intelligent and inquisitive predator had no enclosure furniture at all beyond a dilapidated wooden kennel without a floor, meaning the animals were exposed to full sun in the summer and had to sleep in the mud during winter.
The wedge tailed eagle enclosure had been deliberately stripped of nesting materials thereby denying the birds the opportunity to engage in an instinctive behaviour.
A large amount of the food for the animals was sourced from refuse bins outside commercial supermarkets, there appeared to be no precautions undertaken to ensure contamination by chemical or bacterial agents (which were disposed of in the immediate vicinity) occured.
Some of the food was sourced from a commercial stock feed agent, while I cannot confirm this, I suspect the woman who was managing the sanctuary was obtaining stockfeed for her own private animals (horses and whatever) on the sanctuary account.
Possibly most disturbingly, ther was NO (absolutelty zero) environmental enrichment programme for any of the animals.
Environmental enrichment is a serious buisiness in modern zoology, it’s about providing physical and mental stimulation for the animals, generally replicating instinctive or typical behaviours in the wild.
Much the same principle as walking and throwing a ball for your dog at home to prevent it becoming bored, destructive, obese or stressed.
I enquired about trying to begin an environmental stimulation programme on a number of occasions, I even brought in some animal friendly devices from home.
I was resoundingly told by the manager of the site that she would not permit them to be used under any circumstances.
I left feeling somewhat deflated, not just for the animals who are living in sub-standard conditions, but because I felt powerless to do anything about it.
I made my report to the RSPCA and while I haven’t been back since, I can’t say I hold out a great deal of hope that the sweeping changes which are needed will occur.
Recently there have been calls to relocate the sanctuary to the Wonga wetlands rehabilitation site, I can’t help but wonder if that -and a change of management- might be the very least that is required to make a better environment for the animals and an attraction worth showing visitors for the region.
UPDATE: It’s possible that this story is about to go “mainstream”, I’ll keep you all posted.