From koalas to turtles, it’s all in a day’s work

After several years of taking in as much theoretical information as possible, every veterinary science student gets to the point of finally being allowed to do some practical stuff (work, tasks, learning).

This comes in the form of mandatory work placements, but where we take these placements is entirely our decision.

So here is the chance to dive deeper into the fields one developed an interest in during the past courses at university.

Since I have been particularly interested in working with exotic animals and wildlife, and wanted to return to my favourite destination – Australia, I applied for a placement at the Australia Zoo Wildlife Hospital in Queensland.

In case you haven’t heard of it, The Australia Zoo was called into existence by Steve Irwin, the famous ‘Crocodile Hunter’, who died in 2006 after being stung in the chest by a sting ray.

The zoo is an incredible place, huge, with a lot of thought put into different themed departments, and amazing shows. It is a place which entertains people, young and old, and educates them about our natural world.

The Australia Zoo and Wildlife Hospital (AZWH) is built in the grounds adjacent to the Australia Zoo. Its aim is to conserve Australia’s native animals, and again, to educate.

Under its care are mainly koalas, which were, for example, hit by a car, burnt in a fire, attacked by a dog or suffering from eye and/or bladder infections.

The two latter diseases are unfortunately very common in koalas, for 70 per cent of the koala population suffers from chlamydia infection.

It is this infection, which can make females infertile, might impair their vision by chronic eye infections, dehydrate them by chronic cystitis, and finally make them so weak, that they are unable to climb a tree, and therefore won’t be able to feed.

If you see a koala sitting on the ground, it’s likely to have a problem because although they have strong limbs with long claws, they are not the best fighters, and are quite vulnerable to predators.

So to care for up to 150 koalas, the AZWH provides five outdoor wards, with 12 to 14 enclosures each, a quarantine ward, an intensive care unit, and a big piece of land as a pre-releasing facility.

Besides koalas, the AZWH has several different sized pools for turtles, many of which suffer from injuries caused by motor boat propellers or fishing nets, or floating syndrome.

This syndrome can be caused by a parasitic infestation, which will lead to gas building up in the turtle’s body and keeps it from diving.

A turtle that isn’t able to dive cannot feed, will dehydrate and deteriorate over time, and either be washed up on the beach or die.

One of my favourite patients was Gemma, an adult Green Sea Turtle, weighing more than 80kg.

I had been lucky to assist when she had to have an operation done, during which I learned that sea turtles have green fat tissue.

It was a great success, when after staying at the hospital for about half a year, Gemma was able to be released into the wild again.

Well, I would like to tell you much more about what I experienced during my time at the AZWH, but unfortunately there is only so much space in the newspaper for the story.

However, these experiences are part of the reasons why, now that I’m a vet, I want to specialise in exotic animal and wildlife medicine.

I hope you enjoyed reading about Australia’s wildlife, and that you will keep an eye out for our native wildlife – it might be in need of your support.