Wildlife “sanctuary”?


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.


About alburywodongaonline

Hi I'm Jack Stone (a pseudonym), I'm a long-time Albury resident and I think it's a great place to live and work. I have a strong interest in local events and media and I started this site because I think a different perspective is often needed when reporting local news. I take a keen interest in local politics, as well as what's going on at the state and federal level, I'm also a supporter of social justice issues, the envirionment and the need for people to have a say in the events that effect their lives. I'm a fan of the Border Bandits and I'd love to see both teams take the flag this year, and next year, and maybe the one after that too.
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10 Responses to Wildlife “sanctuary”?

  1. JR says:

    Jack, you’re on to something I have been thinking about for some time. Been there a couple of times (years between) and it makes me very sad and at the same time, very angry, as the very welfare of the animals is not being addressed.

    These days it seems the establishment is relying on a work-for-the-dole scheme for necessary daily work to be carried out.

    As for the general condition of the outfit, try comparing it to a real sanctuary such as Healesville. Shut it, I say.

  2. JR, when I was there there was only one paid employee, the woman managing the site I made mention of.
    The workforce there is made up of volunteers, and there really was no form of induction, training or supervision.
    The problems really are systemic, but one major step they could make to improving the site is to employ someone more progressive in the managerial role.

    Curious you should mention Healsville (a truly world class facility), I actually contacted them to get some input on appropriate interventions for an environmental enrichment programme.
    I got all kinds of ideas, easily implimented, cheap and most importantly, enrich the animals time in captivity immensely.

    They were dismissed out of hand, not even looked at.

    There were a couple of things that prompted me to act, firstly the story of Australia’s last Thylacine.
    They were hunted to extinction by red-necks with guns and dogs, but the very last of it’s kind died not at the hands of a hunter, but through neglect at the hands of people entrusted to it’s care in captivity.

    The second was a book I read about zoology, the author (I’m sorry I don’t recall his name), considered zoos to be an integral part of conservation (as do I), and to that end, he had made it his personal mission “to do everything within his power to assist the good, and shut down the bad”.

  3. JR says:

    That makes a lot of sense, “assist the good, shut down the bad”.

  4. Yeah, well I’ve shared my concerns with the RSPCA, I know the inspector I spoke to planned to do an inspection.

    The vet he planned to take out (Arthur Fraunfelder) also happens to be on the council so to my way of thinking there is an obvious conflict of interests there.

    Besides going public with the story I’m not sure what else I can do.

    I could write a letter to the council voicing my concerns I guess.
    Maybe send a duplicate copy to the newspaper.

    I’ll do that this weekend I think.

  5. Jack Dorf says:

    I don’t like zoos, they leave me feeling really creeped out .

    But I realise that they do play a roll in conservation.

    As for this place. I think it should be closed down and the animals sent somewhere like Healsville.

    Try contacting today tonight or aca, they might be interested in the story?

  6. Jack, all zoos are not created equal, I think for me one of the hallmarks of a good one is that they will do everything within their power to make the animals lives comfortable, pleasant, and as close to the experience of being in the wild as possible.

    In this case it’s not happening.

    For me, the main roll of zoos in conservation is in education, if people see animals, even interact with them they develop something of a relationship with them, they are more likely to care about the destruction of the habitat of an animal they can actually visualise for example.

    I hadn’t really considered going to ACA or TT, but if I can be blunt, I am cynical about both of their motivations, and their capacity to achieve significant results in cases like this.

  7. Jack Dorf says:

    You’re bluntness is welcome, tabloid TV shows are the snakes of the television zoo. But, even a Taipan can be milked and it’s venom used for good.

  8. yes but you need a tiny, tiny three legged stool and it’s hard to find their udders without getting bitten.

    To be blunt, I’m not sure the more sensationalist news media would be too interested in this story, I mean there are any number of hideous animal welfare abuses that go on daily in this country and it’s almost impossible they get any airtime.

    I’m aware of one firm which produces kangaroo meat for human and animal consumption which operates without any code of ethics, no concern for conservation, employs no safeguards to ensure they take animals from the wild in a sustainable manner.
    Effectively they strip-mine the bush.
    No-one in the mainstream media gives a damn it seems.

    I mean look how bad our live sheep export trade had to get before anyone even raised an eyebrow, it’s still going on now.

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