Generous and dedicated wildlife carers Kerstin and Woody devote their time, money, home and backyard to rehabilitate sick and injured critters.
WORDS ALEX SPEED IMAGES ELISE HASSEY
Tug the koala is one lucky little marsupial. The three year old male was found in June wandering along the side of Tugalong Road in Canyonleigh, his eyes so badly infected with ocular chlamydia he was almost blind.
Named in honour of the new National Park at Cayonleigh, formerly Tugalong Station, two months later Tug became the first rehabilitated koala to be released back into new national park. He can thank dedicated carers Kerstin Schweth and Richard ‘Woody’ Woodman for his full recovery.
‘Tug was injured and found on the ground by the side of the road,’ says Woody, a former Qantas pilot of 45 years.
‘If you have a koala on the ground for any length of time, there can be serious problems as chlamydia is very debilitating for koalas and he was in a very bad way when he got to us. But he responded well to treatment, and it was always our aim to rehabilitate and release him as soon as possible.’
Kerstin and Woody began caring for injured native wildlife 15 years ago from their property on the edge of the Macquarie Pass escarpment near Robertson. Today in residence there are also seven wombats, five unfurred ‘pinkies’ including a tiny infant baby wallaroo, an Eastern grey kangaroo and a swamp wallaby, as well as 14 preschool and juvenile kangaroos who muck around together teenage style in an enclosure at the bottom of the 10 acre property.
Feeding their tiny baby charges through the night and day, it’s a 24/7 calling for Kerstin and Woody. They also calls on other volunteers who pitch in, and get support from the local Country Women’s Association, whose local members knit, sew and donate pouches to house their tiniest residents.
‘So most of the animals we get are hit by cars, particularly where the mother is hit and a baby is still in her pouch,’ says Kerstin.
Tug was the eleventh koala Kerstin and Woody have rehabilitated, and part of the 3000 strong koala population recently identified by Wingecarribee Shire Council’s Koala Conservation Project.
When a sick or injured koala is found locally, time is of the essence.
‘Straight away we tell the Wingecarribee Koala hotline and also National Parks’ Threatened Species, and then we get the koala up to the Camden Wildlife Hospital where there are specialist vets and equipment,’ says Woody.
‘Koalas are very finicky patients and need to be diagnosed very quickly. If they are injured, their core temperature drops very rapidly.’
Koalas who find themselves here are housed in a purpose built inside enclosure. Kerstin and Woody cover much of the expense of their patients’ long term care, but are crowd funding to expand and set up an outdoor koala area.
Woody and Kerstin were on hand to see Tug released near when he was picked up in Canyonleigh, and hope will make his way to the Great Western Wildlife Corridor (GWWC), a key land passage with the new national park in the Great Eastern Ranges located between Bullio and Bungonia, linking the southern Blue Mountains with the local Morton National Park. Margot Law, Wingecarribee Shire Council environment officer has been working closely with local landowners to connect up this corridor, and converse local koala habitat.
‘The response locally from local landowners has been overwhelming,’ says Margot.
‘Stage one of SOS Koala Project was learning a lot more about our local koalas, where they are, what they eat, how big the population is. Stage two has been looking to protect their environment. Tug was found smack bang in the middle of the GWWC and the new National Park is going to make a significant impact on the connectivity of the corridor. His release was definitely a milestone moment in our work to ensure the long-term survival of our koalas.’
HOW YOU CAN HELP
- Join a local wildlife group and become an active member. WIRES, Native Wildlife Rescue and Wildlife Rescue South Coast all collaborate to help care for injured native wildlife.
- Keep a blanket or pillow case in your car in case you see an injured animal by the side of the road.
- Do a training course on caring for injured animals or become a buddy to help trained carers.
- Donate via this link to help Kerstin and Woody expand Tug’s koala enclosure: https://ca.gofundme.com/f/rehabilitation-of-australian-wildlife?fbclid=IwAR04eng2zgC7XOYTcQNKbL5JcG8_zG2D1Zt94C8e6xh9B5YOQ9adYICupg4
If you find injured or sick native wildlife, call Native Wildlife Rescue on 4885 2008; Wildlife Rescue South Coast on 0418 427 214 or WIRES on 4862 1788.
If you spot a healthy koala, call the WSC Koala Hotline on 4686 0888 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.