Ascension : ASCENSION ISLAND CONSERVATION DEPARTMENT
Submitted by The Islander (Conservation Office) 17.07.2014 (Article Archived on 31.07.2014)
This final week I had the pleasure of working with the dedicated team at Vale Wildlife Hospital and Rehabilitation Centre.
ASCENSION ISLAND CONSERVATION DEPARTMENT
UK Training Trip Week 4: Vale Wildlife Hospital & Rehabilitation Centre
This final week I had the pleasure of working with the dedicated team at Vale Wildlife Hospital and Rehabilitation Centre. The Centre was started in 1984 when founder and manager, Caroline Gould, was asked by a vet to look after an injured owl. She opened a temporary hospital, in Tewkesbury, Gloucestershire - using her own home to do so. In 1990, Caroline then opened a purpose-built hospital, employing 12 people and many, many volunteers, tasked with providing veterinary care and rehabilitation for injured animals. Today, the hospital is still going strong, providing round the clock care for around 5000 animal a year. This final training week was demanding and busy, but an extremely rewarding experience with a fantastic team (and I met many animal species that I have never seen up close before).
I arrived on Saturday afternoon, after a long trip from South Stack, Wales and met Caroline who gave me a tour of the Centre and the surrounding grounds, pointing out the different animals and people that worked with them. This was an overwhelming experience as I have never seen many of these animals before - only in movies and photographs (you could definitely tell that I was the ‘island boy’ that day) - there were badgers, foxes, snakes, hedgehogs, deer and emus to name just a few. The Centre was extremely busy and so I got to work straight away, hand-feeding baby hedgehogs in the Brooder Room. I was apprehensive that I might hurt them, but was given a full brief on how to do it successfully and began to feel at ease. Each hogling was carefully weighed (watching out for their spines) and the measurement noted, and then fed puppy milk using a syringe with a specially made teat. I found this very exciting and after an hour or so, I felt like I had been doing it for years.
The next day, I had a great time working with the birds of Vale Wildlife, in the Bird Room. Here I helped the ‘bird man’ Martin to clean and feed all of the baby and adult birds that needed some TLC until their release. I was introduced to sparrows, gulls, pigeons, woodpeckers, owls, robins, buzzards and many more. My day revolved around cleaning each cage using an anti-bacterial solution, lining it with newspaper and giving each bird the right amount and variety of fresh food and water that they required. Each bird was then weighed, measured and returned to its cleaned cage. All birds were checked for any signs of distress and for some, how their wounds were healing. On this day, I also had to unfortunately euthanize my first bird – a woodpigeon, with a broken wing and shoulder that would have never healed.
I also had the chance to work with the adult hedgehogs that were brought to the Centre by the public for a number of reasons including injury from car accidents or having their nest disturbed by people or other animals e.g. dogs. Again like all animals here, they had to be cleaned, weighed and given the right amount of food and water. During all work, talking had to be kept to a minimum as we didn’t want the animals that needed to be released to imprint on humans and become tame - it was very difficult (well for me J ) to not talk so much. When all of the feeding was complete inside, the animals in the aviaries, cages and paddocks outside then needed attending to. This involved providing food and water, cleaning out living quarters and replacing bedding, weighing animals, refilling ponds for the ducks, and collecting food outside the Centre for grazing animals e.g. brambles for the deer.
During the week, I had the opportunity to help with ‘call-outs’ where we went to collect injured animals (at any time of the day or night), which the public phoned in about. Using the Centre’s animal ambulance, we went to the location to help the animal that was injured, trapped or lost etc., and if necessary we brought them back to the Centre, to be assessed, given treatment and nursed back to health. Although, we all want the best for each animal, a lot die either before we reach them or after first aid is given - it is a sometimes a difficult call when animals are brought in as to whether they require treatment or if it is more humane to euthanize them.
I also had the opportunity to work with the Centre’s vet, Tim. When ‘call-out’ animals were brought in, they first had to be assessed by Tim before being fed and brought to the correct holding area. I was able to assist with giving injections to a fawn deer that had been hit by a car, a male badger with a large bite wound, and with the post-mortem of a female hedgehog that had died during giving birth. It was very interesting to see these animals up close and personal (once they had been sedated first though J).
Over the next couple of days, I found that I could confidently without help get the right food for the different animals around the Centre e.g. for the birds - seeds, mealworms, maggots or fruit, for the hedgehogs - blended cat or dog food and puppy milk, for the badgers - cut up frozen chicks and for the foxes - rabbits). It was a privilege to be given responsibility for these animals, as without our intervention they may not have survived. My time at Vale has been fantastic – a great experience and I also learnt skills that I can bring back to my job on Ascension Island. Many thanks to Caroline and the rest of the team for this opportunity!
By the time that you read this, I will be back on Ascension Island - my time in the UK has been a once in a lifetime experience and I’m extremely grateful to everybody who made it happen. Thank you to the Darwin Initiative and Ascension Island Government for funding, to the entire AIG Conservation team for their support, planning and preparation for this exciting adventure (I now know what you’re talking about when it comes to certain things about the UK). Personal thank to my boss, Nicola Weber for everything, Jolene Sim for the plane trip (thanks for putting up with my excitement) and for getting me onto my first train, Eliza Leat for the support and for keeping me calm - I did not got blown up in a taxi or derailed on a train (too many action movies, I know). And finally to all my friends - new and old who I met on this trip, thank you so much for the experience and fun (I won’t mention anyone’s names as I will leave people out, but thank you so much). I will miss a lot of things in the UK - most certainly the mobile phone, and my new favourites the train, double-decker bus, the animals, the buzz of life and traffic and… the good old escalator!