Date:
30 June 2023

The Victorian wildlife rehabilitation system

In Victoria, sick, injured or orphaned wildlife can only be rehabilitated by a wildlife shelter operator or foster carer who is authorised under section 28A of the Wildlife Act 1975 (Wildlife Act).

Wildlife shelter operators and foster carers are collectively known as wildlife rehabilitators. As a wildlife rehabilitator, you are authorised to acquire, receive, possess, destroy (euthanise) and dispose of wildlife for the purposes of the care, treatment and rehabilitation of sick, injured or orphaned wildlife for release back to the wild.

Your dedication and commitment to Victoria’s native wildlife is highly valued by the Victorian Government and the community.

Purpose of the guide

This authorisation guide explains the conditions of your authorisation, the objectives of each condition and how you can comply.

Purpose of the guide

This guide has been developed by the Department of Energy, Environment and Climate Action in consultation with Animal Welfare Victoria, the RSPCA, Zoos Victoria, veterinarians and representatives from the wildlife rehabilitation community.

Wildlife rehabilitators are regulated by conditions that enforce the minimum standards required for the humane treatment and successful rehabilitation of wildlife in care.

This authorisation guide explains the conditions of your authorisation, the objectives of each condition and how you can comply. The advice provided in the How to comply sections is not mandatory, but rather provides the suggested method of meeting the conditions. You may choose alternative methods as long as you meet the conditions.

Depending on your specialisations and facilities, your authorisation may include additional conditions that restrict the number or type of species you can care for. Please ensure you read your authorisation conditions carefully. For further information, please contact your local DEECA office (Appendix 1(opens in a new window)) or the DEECA Customer Contact Centre on 136 186.

Information on capture and basic first aid for wildlife is provided in Appendix 2(opens in a new window).

The Victorian Wildlife Rehabilitation Guidelines have been developed to complement this authorisation guide by providing comprehensive, best-practice practical information, including consideration of the five domains of animal welfare, from first aid to release. The guidelines are available at wildlife.vic.gov.au.

Capacity to care

It is important to consider your capacity before agreeing to take wildlife into care. The concept of 'capacity to care(opens in a new window)’ refers to your ability to:

  • Provide the minimum care and essential needs of rescued native animals
  • Have the resources required to appropriately prepare wildlife for release back into the wild.

Please be mindful of your capacity, particularly when there is an influx of wildlife requiring care due to major incidents like bushfire, significant weather events and other natural disasters.

Exceeding your capacity to care for wildlife may result in unacceptable standards and welfare outcomes that do not meet the conditions of your authorisation. Also consider the emotional load required to care for additional animals, and put your own safety and welfare first.

Caring for some young wildlife (e.g. baby birds and joeys) requires significant time commitment and would not be appropriate for those unable to meet their care requirements.

The Conservation Regulator recommends establishing good communication with other wildlife rehabilitators in your area.

If you believe your capacity is exceeded and you are not able to provide adequate care for an animal, it is recommended you contact another wildlife rehabilitator to see if they have capacity to take the animal. If you are not able to find another wildlife rehabilitator who has the capacity to take the animal, then it should be humanely euthanised.

Failure to comply with conditions

Failure to comply with the conditions of your authorisation is an offence under section 28B.

Failure to comply with the conditions of your authorisation is an offence under section 28B (‘Offence of failing to comply with conditions of authorisation’) of the Wildlife Act 1975. Failure to comply can result in fines of up to 50 penalty units ($9,615.50 as at 1 July 2023).

Penalty units are updated by the Department of Treasury and Finance on 1 July each year. As of 1 July 2023, a penalty unit equates to $192.31.

If you are not complying with the conditions of your authorisation, you may also be committing offences under section 41 (‘Hunting, taking or destroying threatened wildlife’) and 43 (‘Hunting, taking or destroying protected wildlife’) of the Wildlife Act 1975.

Offences under section 41 carry a penalty of 240 penalty units ($46,154.40 as at 1 July 2023) or 24 months imprisonment, or both the fine and imprisonment and an additional penalty of 20 penalty units ($3,846.20 as at 1 July 2023) for every head of wildlife in respect of which an offence has been committed.

Offences under section 43 carry a penalty of 50 penalty units ($9,615.50 as at 1 July 2023) or 6 months imprisonment, or both the fine and imprisonment and an additional penalty of 5 penalty units ($961.55 as at 1 July 2023) for every head of wildlife in respect of which an offence has been committed.

In addition, the welfare of all animals in Victoria is protected under the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals Act 1986 (POCTA Act) under which anyone who commits an act of cruelty or aggravated cruelty is liable for an offence. Failure to comply with some of the conditions of your authorisation may constitute an offence under the POCTA Act (for example undertaking surgical treatment on animals in your care).

The penalties for offences under the POCTA Act are considerable; fines of up to $46,230 or jail for up to 12 months for animal cruelty (for individuals), and fines of up to $92,460.00 or imprisonment for up to two years for aggravated cruelty. Aggravated cruelty is cruelty that causes the death or serious disablement of an animal.

How to report illegal possession of wildlife and non‑compliance

If you suspect someone is holding wildlife unlawfully you can report Wildlife Crime to Crime Stoppers on 1800 333 000 or at www.crimestoppersvic.com.au/report-a-crime(opens in a new window)

To report someone not complying with the conditions of their authorisation, you can report it to your local DEECA office (see Appendix 1(opens in a new window)), or via the DEECA Customer Contact Centre on 136 186(opens in a new window).

Authorisation conditions

Information pertaining to the 25 authorisation conditions.

Species not covered by your authorisation

Direction by Authorised Officers

Assessment and quarantine of wildlife

Experience in caring for wildlife

Surgical treatment and medication

Euthanasia (destroying) of wildlife

Disposal of carcasses

Threatened species

Enclosure size standards

Enclosure location and construction standards

Enclosure care

Food and water

Display of wildlife

Release of wildlife

Wildlife records

Other wildlife licenses

Supervising shelters

Appendix 1 : Important contact details for wildlife rehabilitators

Contact details for DEECA offices and facilities mentioned in this guide.

Table 7 Contact details for DEECA offices

DEECA Customer Contact Centre

Phone: 136 186

Email: customer.service@deeca.vic.gov.au

Barwon South West RegionGeelong30 Little Malop Street, Geelong VIC 322003 5226 4667barwonsouthwest.cr@delwp.vic.gov.au(opens in a new window)
WarrnamboolPO Box 105, Warrnambool VIC 328003 5561 9946
Gippsland RegionBairnsdale574 Main Street, Bairnsdale VIC 387503 5152 0400gippsland.cr@delwp.vic.gov.au(opens in a new window)
Traralgon71 Hotham Street, Traralgon VIC 384403 5172 2111
Grampians RegionBallarat402-406 Mair Street, Ballarat VIC 335003 5336 6856grampians.cr@delwp.vic.gov.au(opens in a new window)
Horsham110 Natimuk Road, Horsham VIC 340003 5362 2111
Hume RegionAlexandra5 Binns McCrae Road, Alexandra VIC 371403 5772 0200hume.cr@dewlp.vic.gov.au(opens in a new window)
Wangaratta62-68 Ovens Street, Wangaratta VIC 367703 5723 8600
Loddon Mallee RegionBendigo195-229 Lyttleton Terrace, Bendigo VIC 355003 5430 4444permissions.lm@delwp.vic.gov.au(opens in a new window)
Swan Hill324-330 Campbell Street, Swan Hill VIC 358603 5036 4800
Port Phillip RegionMelbourne609 Burwood Highway, Knoxfield VIC 318003 9210 9222permissions.portphillipregion@delwp.vic.gov.au(opens in a new window)

Table 8 Contact details of facilities mentioned in this guide

Whale and Dolphin Emergency Hotline1300 136 017
Healesville Sanctuary Wildlife Hospital03 5957 2829
AGL Marine Response Unit1300 245 678
0447 158 676
Phillip Island Nature Parks03 5951 2800
Emergency Animal Disease Hotline 24 hours1800 675 888
Report wildlife crime to Crime Stoppers crimestoppersvic.com.au/report-a-crime (opens in a new window)1800 333 000

Appendix 2 : Further information

Further resources for capture and rescue of injured, sick or orphaned wildlife and basic first aid for wildlife.

Capture and rescue of injured, sick or orphaned wildlife

Rescuers have a responsibility to ensure handling and capture methods are humane and do not put themselves or others at risk. Capture is stressful for wildlife, and so must be carefully planned and undertaken quickly to avoid further stress or injury.

It is important to always put the safety of rescuers and members of the public first. Always assess possible hazards with each rescue (e.g. dangerous terrain, near a busy road, risk of injury from the animal such as bites or scratches) and put in place measures to minimise these risks (e.g. appropriate protective equipment).

Carefully plan the method of capture

Time spent observing the animal, the escape route it wants to follow, and coordinating your movements is invaluable. Always assess the animal from a distance first, observing using binoculars if possible. This improves your own safety and minimises the possibility of an animal trying to flee and hurt itself further, or escaping. It will also help you confirm whether the animal requires rescuing (i.e. some minor injuries do not need treatment and will heal on their own).

Minimise the time taken to capture the animal

Ideally less than three minutes, to avoid muscle damage.

The following should be considered:

  • When the weather is warm, capture should be attempted early morning or late afternoon and should not be conducted during the heat of the day.
  • Animals must never be chased over long distances or for long periods of time. For some animals, this can prove fatal.
  • If you cannot capture the animal after the first couple of attempts, withdraw and consider using another method of capture.
  • Wildlife should be handled calmly, without sudden movements and using the least number of people possible.
  • Be firm but gentle when handling the animal and handle it as little as possible. Remember, it is a wild animal and is not used to humans.
  • When restraining an animal by hand, use gloves that protect your hands but don’t limit your dexterity.
  • Always ensure that the animal can breathe and regulate its own temperature when restraining or transporting wildlife.
  • Darkened cages and/or blindfolds (e.g. a blanket placed on the animal’s head) should be used whenever possible to reduce stress and subdue animals.
  • Excessive noise from loud equipment, vehicles or talking should be minimised during rescue and transport.

Please note

Some veterinary drugs, including drugs for sedation, are restricted under the Drugs, Poisons and Controlled Substances Regulations 2017. Restricted drugs must only be administered to wildlife by, or under the direct supervision of, a registered veterinary practitioner. Direct supervision means that the veterinary practitioner has seen and assessed the animal and prescribed the medication based on the species, weight and type of illness or injury. Administering restricted veterinary drugs to wildlife without veterinary diagnosis and prescription is illegal.

Check for young

Always check female animals to see if they are lactating or carrying pouch young. If they have a long teat, check the nearby area for young at foot. Taking a mother into care could result in the death of her young who will be left behind to fend for itself.

Record the location

It is important to ensure you record the exact location of where the animal was found and make sure this information remains with the animal until it is ready for release. This will enable the animal to be returned to where it was found and provide it with the greatest chance of survival.

Basic first aid

The aim of first aid is to provide basic and immediate assistance to an injured animal, prior to it receiving veterinary attention. The goal is to address shock and prevent further damage occurring due to broken bones or bleeding wounds. First aid should be administered as soon as possible after capture.

First aid should be provided in the following order:

  1. Perform an initial brief examination
  2. Obtain and record the weight of the animal
  3. Assess the degree of dehydration
  4. Provide a warm and dark quiet place to treat shock
  5. Provide fluids
  6. Apply bandaging

After giving first aid, rescuers should arrange for animals to be assessed by a registered veterinarian or person experienced in diagnosing illness, diseases and injuries in the species as soon as possible to ensure accurate diagnosis and prompt treatment. If this is not possible (e.g. because of the remoteness of the location), expert advice must be sought via telephone or email.

Initial examination

The first step is to examine the animal quickly (but gently) to determine whether its injuries or illness warrant euthanasia, or otherwise determine what treatment may be required, or where a more detailed veterinary assessment is needed (e.g. to check for fractures).

If possible, stand back and quietly observe the animal for a minute. This is a good, low stress way of checking for injuries.

If the animal is experiencing significant pain, distress, trauma or disease that cannot be relieved or if there are severe injuries such as exposed bones or intestines, the animal must be promptly euthanised in accordance with Conditions 10 and 11 of your authorisation.

If the animal would not survive without extensive treatment or surgery, and/or is unlikely to recover sufficiently to be self-sufficient in the wild at the location where it was found, it must also be promptly euthanised.

Obtain and record the weight of the animal

The weight of the animal should be obtained to determine:

  • If the animal is the correct weight for its age and species
  • What amount of fluids are needed to correct dehydration (see below)
  • What amount of medication may be required
  • What amount of food is required each day

Assess the degree of dehydration

At the time of initial examination, it is important to know the severity of dehydration to identify those animals that may not survive and to provide the correct amount of fluid. Dehydration can be assessed by the degree of skin “tenting”. This is assessed by gently pinching a small amount of the animal’s skin and estimating how long the skin takes to return to its normal position. The longer this takes, the more dehydrated the animal is.

Various animal species have different places to look for evidence of dehydration. Table 10 outlines locations where skin tenting can be carried out to assess dehydration.

Your initial assessment should help you to decide whether the animal requires veterinary attention or if you have the skills and ability to support it. If veterinary assistance is required, try to get it to a veterinarian within 24 hours of rescue to provide the best chance of survival.

Table 9 Determine the severity of dehydration

Dehydration percentageAppearanceTreatmentPrognosis for survival
5%

Animal lively and active.

Gums are tacky.

Skin tenting takes less than 1 second to fall.

Oral electrolyte solutions.Good
10%

Lethargic, tacky gums.

Skin tenting takes more than 1 – 2 seconds to fall.

May require subcutaneous fluids as well as oral electrolytes.Moderate
12%

Skin tenting takes more than 2 seconds to fall.

Lethargic, loss of consciousness, low body temperature, slow heart rate.

Requires intravenous fluids administered by a veterinarian.Poor

Table 10 Locations where skin tenting can be carried out

Animal groupSite to pinch skin to assess dehydration
BirdsFoot and over keel bone
Possum, macropod, flying foxOver shoulder blades
Wombat, EchidnaOver abdomen
KoalaOver head
Snakes, Water dragonsAlong body wall
TurtlesOn neck

Provide a warm, dark and quiet place to treat shock

Animals can enter a state of shock following injury or disease. These animals will have cool ears and feet and will not defecate or urinate as the body tries to conserve water.

Animals in shock must be provided with a quiet and dark location following the initial examination, weighing and dehydration assessment. An easy way to provide this is to cover enclosures with a towel. For marsupials, placing them into a pouch will provide a dark location.

You should also make sure the room or enclosure is warmed to a temperature appropriate for the species, although it is preferable to have a heating gradient across the enclosure to allow the animal to move away from the heat if they wish.

While an animal is in a heated enclosure, the temperature of the enclosure should be monitored with a thermometer. The behaviour of the animal should also be monitored to ensure it is comfortable. This is particularly important for animals that are unable to move to ensure the animal does not become too hot or too cold.

Provide fluids

Dehydration will occur with orphaning, injury or shock. For normal digestion and healing to occur, dehydration must be corrected. All animals must be warmed before fluids are given. The fluid itself should also be warmed to the animal’s normal body temperature before being given. Suitable temperatures of fluids are:

Reptiles

22 – 28°C

Birds

36 – 38°C

Marsupials

32 – 36°C

The standard approach is to assume that each animal that comes into care is 10% dehydrated. If it is less than 10% dehydrated and you give fluids, the animal will simply urinate more. If the animal is greater than 10% dehydrated you could prevent it from going into shock.

To calculate the amount of fluid to give an animal every 24 hours, use the following formula:

Fluid volume to give (in millilitres) = body weight (in grams) x 0.1

For example, a 100g Ringtail possum that has entered care due to orphaning will need to be hydrated. How much fluid should be given?

Body weight (g) x 0.1Fluid volume to give (ml)
100g x 0.110ml

Therefore 10ml is the total volume that the Ringtail possum needs in a 24-hour period. This should be broken up into smaller amounts that the possum can accept and be offered throughout the day.

For example, this might be given as 2 – 3ml every 6 hours over a 24-hour period.

Fluids can be given either:

1 By mouth

This route is used for conscious animals that can swallow and move. This is the ideal route and should be used wherever possible. Offer a small amount of water to the side of the mouth and wait for swallowing. Oral rehydration solutions that can be used include:

  • Cooled boiled water.
  • Oral rehydration fluids, e.g. Vytrate®, Lectade® (Jurox), Gastrolyte®, Spark® (Vetafarm).
  • Home-made rehydration fluids, i.e. 1 teaspoon of salt and 1 teaspoon of sugar are dissolved in 1 metric cup of cooled boiled water.

2 Subcutaneous injection

This route is used for depressed animals with poor swallowing reflexes. This route can be performed by wildlife carers after being taught this technique by a veterinarian and involves injection directly into tissue (not veins). Both Hartman’s® (compound sodium lactate) and 0.9% saline are fluids that can be given subcutaneously.

Apply bandaging

Bandaging injured wildlife is an important skill that needs to be carefully applied. It can make animals more comfortable but can also cause unnecessary pain and reduced animal welfare or complications to the animal’s initial injuries if performed incorrectly.

It is important that carers feel confident that they can bandage an animal appropriately before attempting to do so. Bandages that are placed too tightly can block the blood supply to appendages. Bandages that are placed too loosely will fall off and thus not achieve their purpose.

Table 11 Basic first aid kit for wildlife, items and purpose

ItemPurpose
500ml or 1L saline solution or Hartman’s fluid bagsFlush wounds of debris. Flush eyes. Applied as part of a wet-to-dry dressing.
Gauze squaresUsed to clean wounds or applied on bleeding area as part of a pressure bandage.
Cotton tipsSmall and large. Used to clean small wounds.
Self-adhesive bandage(E.g. Vetrap®, Coplus®, Rip Rap®). Used for pressure, immobilisation and dressing bandages in all animal groups.
Crepe bandagesUse limited to larger animals. Non-adhesive and so tape will be needed to hold in place.
Micropore® tapeUsed to bandage bird legs, hold dressings in place.
Non-adhesive dressings(E.g. Melolin®) Used to cover wounds and absorb discharge. Does not stick to wound.
1% Iodine or Chlorhexidine solutionAntiseptic solution used to flush wounds. Effective against bacteria, fungi and yeast on most animal species.
Surgical scissorsCutting bandages, dressings or fishing line. May be used to trim fur or dead pieces of skin.
TweezersHandling sterile items, removing ticks/splinters/foreign objects.
20ml syringes with 18G needleUsed to flush wounds of debris and bacteria.
ThermometerUsed to take the temperature of the animal.

Further information

The Victorian Wildlife Rehabilitation Guidelines provide species-specific information for the most common Victorian species that come into care. It provides information about how to capture, handle, assess, care for and release sick, injured or orphaned native wildlife.

If you are unsure of the appropriate first aid treatment for an animal, further advice must be sought from a registered veterinary practitioner or a person experienced in the rehabilitation of the species.

DEECA also recommends that, where possible, wildlife rehabilitators should attend training courses to further develop their skills in wildlife rehabilitation, including first aid. Wildlife rehabilitators can apply for funding from DEECA to undertake training courses through the Wildlife Rehabilitator Grants Program.

More information on the grants program and eligibility criteria(opens in a new window) can be found on the DEECA website.

Enclosure size

To assist in meeting the requirements of Condition 14, please refer to the following information as a basic guide when determining appropriate enclosure size. To calculate the floor area of a:

Rectangle or square

diagram of a square

Length x width = area

For example, you acquired or received a rosella that was 30cm long and you planned to keep it in an indoor enclosure which needs to have a minimum floor area of 5000cm2 with a minimum height of 90cm.

Question

You have measured your rectangular/square enclosure and determined that it has a 100cm length, 55cm width and 100cm height. Could you keep the rosella in this enclosure? To determine the floor area = 100 x 55 = 5500cm2 Height = 100cm

Answer

Yes, you can keep the rosella in this indoor enclosure as 5500cm2 is greater than the minimum floor area requirement and 100cm height is 10cm greater than the height requirement.

Triangle

diagram of a triangle

Base x perpendicular height)/2 = area

For example, you acquired or received a Brushtail Possum which needs to be kept in an enclosure that has a minimum floor area of 10,000cm2 and a minimum height of 200cm.

Question

You have measured your triangular enclosure which has a 170cm base length, 105cm perpendicular height and 210cm height. Could you keep the Brushtail Possum in this enclosure? To determine the floor area = 170 x 105 = 17,850 17,850 / 2 = 8925cm2 Height = 210cm

Answer

No, unfortunately the floor area of your enclosure is too small to keep the Brushtail Possum in even though the height is greater than the minimum requirement.

Circle

diagram of a circle

(Radiusπ) x π = area π = 3.142

For example, you acquired or received a tortoise that was 15cm long and needs to be kept in an enclosure that has a minimum floor area of 20,000cm2 and a minimum height of 20cm.

Question

Your circular enclosure has a diameter of 180cm and a 23cm height. Could you keep the tortoise in this enclosure? To determine the radius from the diameter = 180 / 2 = 90 To determine the floor area = 902 = 90 x 90 = 8100 8100 x 3.142 = 25,450.2cm2 Height = 23cm

Answer

Yes, the tortoise can be kept in this enclosure as the floor area is greater than 20,000cm2 and the height is 3cm greater than the minimum height requirements. Keep in mind that as a tortoise is a reptile, there may also be heating requirements for this animal’s enclosure.

Further resources