About caring for wildlife

This page is a guide for caring for wildlife in the Northern Territory (NT).

If you find an injured animal you should report it by doing any of the following:

  • contact a local wildlife care organisation
  • contact Wildlife Operations
  • take the animal to a local veterinary clinic.

Read more on how to report or rescue injured wildlife.

Permits

All native wildlife is protected in the NT. 

To care for sick, injured or orphaned wildlife in the NT, you must have a wildlife carer's permit. This does not allow you to keep wildlife permanently.

For each animal that comes into care you must fill in a wildlife report / application for release form.

When animals should be released

Before releasing an animal back in the wild you must fill in a wildlife report / application for release form.

Rehabilitated animals are ready for release when they meet all of the following criteria:

  • show recovery from the original injury or from any injuries in care
  • are no longer in need of medical care
  • show no signs of active disease
  • show an appropriate level of physical fitness
  • have movement skills needed for survival
  • can navigate in a complex environment
  • show a fight or flight response
  • show proper foraging behaviour - to recognise, source and harvest food
  • show normal species behaviour
  • be a correct age for independent survivial
  • be a correct weight for that sex, species, age and season
  • posses pelage, scales, skin or plumage that is adequate for that species to survive
  • demonstrate that waterproof pelage/plumage is sufficient.

If possible, a rehabilitated animal must be released where it was found, in the animal’s normal habitat and where those animals are found in the wild. 

This minimises the unnatural spread of parasites, diseases and genetic material among wild populations and maximises the animal’s chance of survival.

If an animal’s injuries are minor, it should be returned to the wild as soon as possible. 

After a few weeks in captivity, a rescued animal can adapt to human contact making it unable to survive in the wild if it’s released without the right rehabilitation.

Releasing long-term captive animals is rarely justified on conservation or animal welfare grounds. There’s little conservation value in releasing a common animal back to the wild, particularly if it’s behaviourally, physically or otherwise impaired.

The rehabilitation and release of a rescued animal must be planned and consider environmental factors and the animal’s suitability for release. 

The animal’s survival is dependent on its physical health, behaviour and ability to adapt to the wild. An animal unlikely to survive must not be released. 

When receiving an animal, a wildlife carer must assess if it’s likely to be suitable for release. This helps to create an appropriate treatment and care plan.

Wildlife carer responsibilities

Hand-rearing and rehabilitating wildlife needs training and experience. 

If you don't have training and experience you will need a mentor until you can develop the experience you need.

Wildlife carers must have all of the following:

  • an understanding of the biology of wildlife
  • proven experience with wildlife or an experienced mentor
  • sound knowledge of species, feeding, behaviour, dehumanising and so on
  • an understanding of wildlife rehabilitation.

Wildlife carers need to understand the animal’s needs and provide suitable facilities before it is released. Cages and enclosures must be the right size for the animal/s and have adequate shelter.

 Enclosures must stop escapes, break-ins by other animals such as dogs or snakes and cross-infection. 

Wildlife carers must also consider any impacts a wildlife care facility may have on neighbours. 

You should check local by-laws and planning standards.

Hand-rearing and rehabilitating wildlife can be intensive and time consuming. 

A wildlife carer's work is voluntary and costs for food, bedding, cages, equipment and vets can be expensive.

While orphaned young need interaction with their carer to meet their physical and psychological needs during care, this interaction must be reduced as the animal is prepared for release back into the wild. 

Wildlife carers must understand the purpose of their work is rehabilitation for release, not creating dependent pets or captives.

First aid

Use the following guide for wildlife first aid.

You should do all of the following before you give first aid: 

  • make sure you are safe 
  • assess the animal for life-threatening processes 
  • gather circumstantial information.

Then follow the tables below to work out how to best help the animal.

Option 1 - suitable for release Option 2 - poor chance of survival
Animal is likely to be suitable for release. Animal has poor chance of survival due to severe injury, excessive stress, early developmental stage or disease.
Apply first aid to address life threatening conditions, such as stop blood flow, stabilise injury, provide warmth or rehydrate. Humanely euthanise.
Apply first aid to reduce stress - place animal in a secure holding box, move into warm, quiet place.  

Get veterinary attention for the animal. Get experienced carer advice and direction.

 

Following Option 1 - After vet attention and direction

Option 1.1 - suitable for release Option 1.2 - poor chance of survival
Animal is likely to be suitable for release Animal has poor chance of survival due to severe injury, excessive stress, early developmental stage or disease.
Rehabilitate Humanely euthanise.
Release 

Health, disease and euthanasia

When you care for wildlife there’s a risk that caring for them may spread disease. 

Disease can affect human health, domestic animal health and biodiversity. 

Some diseases have had devastating impacts on entire species (such as chytrid in frogs), and others have been fatal to humans, such as lyssavirus, which is transferred from bats.

You can reduce the potential for animals to contract parasites or disease by doing all of the following:

  • keep a high standard of hygiene 
  • clean enclosures and equipment regularly with proper cleaning and sterilising agents
  • keep a low-stress environment
  • isolate/quarantine new animals in a separate area until their health is determined
  • quarantine sick animals throughout their rehabilitation
  • care for as few animals as possible
  • keep animals of different species separate
  • do not combine animals that come from different areas
  • keep wildlife quarantined from pets and domestic animals, particularly related species - such as wild and pet parrots.

Only care for island species on their island of origin, not on the mainland as these species are vulnerable to disease. If they’re transferred to the mainland, they must not be returned to the island of origin.

Diseases can be transmitted between humans and animals - these are called zoonoses. 

How to reduce spread of disease

All of the following will reduce the chance of disease:

  • wear gloves
  • use proper handling techniques
  • make sure you’re up to date with vaccinations (especially tetanus)
  • carers that handle bats should have pre-exposure rabies vaccination for lyssavirus.

If you become pregnant, talk to your doctor about how to care for wildlife safely during pregnancy.

Diseases which can be transferred to humans

Some of the diseases that can be transferred to humans include all of the following:

  • reptiles - salmonella, mycobacterium and cryptosporidium
  • birds - salmonella, psittacosis (Chlamydiophila psittaci) and mycobacterium
  • mammals - salmonella, ringworm, sarcoptic mange, Q fever, toxoplasmosis
  • bats - lyssavirus, menangle.

Handling raw meat, including post mortems of native mammals, is considered a route of transmission.

Wildlife carers are an important source of wildlife health information and knowledge, and contribute to increased awareness and monitoring diseases. 

If you see any signs of disease that are unusual or clusters of wildlife deaths, contact your vet, Parks and Wildlife or Wildlife Health Australia.

For any animal health-related concerns, contact your vet. For any human health-related concerns, contact your doctor.

The decision to euthanise and the euthanasia itself should be done by a vet.

Last updated: 27 June 2017