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DBCA dictate animal no show

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This month’s column is from our Chairperson, Dean Arthurell, explaining the unfortunate reasons why the Chittering Wildlife Carers will no longer be a presence at our local community shows.

Chittering Wildlife Carers (CWC) was officially incorporated as an association in June 2007. Long before this, original members had been rescuing and rehabilitating wildlife in Chittering and neighbouring shires largely funded by themselves. Wildlife rehabilitation has always been essentially a thankless task, except for the sheer satisfaction of seeing a native animal return to its habitat after rehabilitation. The group was formalised to access fundraising opportunities and coordinate the many skills of carers for optimal outcomes for local wildlife.

Since 2007, CWC have been regular exhibitors at almost every local event on the calendar. These events have been an opportunity to engage and educate the general public on what we do, and how we help the community, as well as being our main fundraising revenue. We showcase our native animals in care, teaching about their plight and rehabilitation pathway. In March 2023, the Department of Biodiversity, Conservation and Attractions (DBCA) implemented a long-awaited raft of changes to the Code of Practice for Wildlife Rehabilitation in Western Australia.

These changes now affect all volunteer wildlife rehabilitation groups across WA and have added an enormous administration burden on all carers and groups. DBCA have implemented onerous record keeping responsibilities for every animal admitted, however cannot yet implement an electronic licensing system to carers.

Rehabilitators are now required by DBCA to apply for an authority to release all wildlife in care prior to doing so. Examples of rehabilitators completing the required paperwork has seen animals in care for over 6 weeks waiting for authorisation from DBCA. It is clear the department does not have sufficient staffing capacity, or the relevant staff training to cope with the admin burden of the new regulations. The only outcomes thus far under the new regulations are detrimental to our wildlife.

One of the changes to the new rehabilitation licences (pursuant to Reg 35 of the Biodiversity Conservation Regulations 2018) is the prohibition of animals undergoing rehabilitation being used for offsite display purposes. Chittering Wildlife Carers, like all other rehabilitators are now unable to display wildlife in care at local events or open days. This has effectively removed our capacity to educate the public using animals in care, and has removed our main fundraising income. The incoming Director General of DBCA Stuart Smith, and Minister for the Environment Reece Whitby, need to take note of the mental health and wellbeing of the unpaid workforce that are volunteer wildlife rehabilitators in WA.

These changes have only put volunteers under more pressure and scrutiny, while removing fundraising streams. We risk losing volunteers with a wealth of experience for fear of prosecution under new regulations. Currently, the State government and our wildlife rely heavily on the goodwill of volunteers as there are no alternative care arrangements in place.

Wildlife carers do this task at their own expense, donating their time and resources, often on top of managing a full-time job and family commitments, often paying for the costs associated with rehabilitation out of their own pocket.

We attend events to educate and fundraise for our wildlife, we attend exhaustive numbers of calls for euthanasia from road trauma — a job often avoided by police, DBCA staff and local rangers. We are the first and last line of defence when it comes to our precious wildlife, and we do it all for free.

Chittering Wildlife Carers Inc on behalf of all wildlife volunteers in WA call on the Minister and the DBCA Director General to walk a mile in our shoes, and reconsider the latest, prohibitive changes. For wildlife’s sake.