Caring for Orphaned Wildlife

‚ÄčOrphaned Tasmanian devils feeding

For Assistance

If you find an injured or orphaned animal please contact Bonorong Wildlife Sanctuary on 0447 264 625. Alternatively, you can contact your nearest Parks and Wildlife Service office.

Out of Hours Assistance

For assistance out of hours, please ring 03 6165 4305 to receive instructions via a recorded message or contact your nearest Parks and Wildlife Service office.

If you find a distressed native animal, there are several important steps to follow which will reduce the stress of capture and help prevent further injury to the animal.

Most native animals brought to the Department of Primary Industries and Water or Parks and Wildlife Service by members of the public, are victims of vehicle or window collisions, dog or cat attack, trapping, shooting or electrocution. Our goal is to relieve the stress of these unfortunate animals and ideally to rehabilitate them back to the wild in a fit condition. These notes have been designed to give the animal a better chance of survival during short term care or in an emergency. Long term care requires greater knowledge of an animal's requirements. Please refer to the books recommended at the end of this page for more comprehensive information.

Before Capture

Before attempting capture, observe the animal for any signs of illness or injury. Information can then be passed on to an expert to help identify the animal's problem. For example, a broken wing will hang, and an inclined head may suggest concussion or a damaged ear. Look for wounds, unusual behaviour, movements or posture such as lopsidedness.

Capture and Transport

Prepare a suitable transport box for the animal before attempting capture. Cardboard boxes will need airholes punched into them and can be slippery for birds. Line the bottom of the box with newspaper, old towels or an old blanket.

The capture and handling of wild animals can be very stressful (for both animal and handler). Animals can become aggressive and difficult to handle when scared or injured. They may try to defend themselves with wings, teeth, beak or claws. Wear gloves for protection.

A confident yet gentle approach is best. At least two people are needed for the capture of larger animals such as an adult wallaby. If you are inexperienced at handling wildlife or do not have any rescue gear please do not attempt to capture the animal, instead seek expert help.

Most animals can be captured by throwing an old towel or blanket over them. Nets can cause more injuries. Wrap the animal securely or place it in a clean hessian sack or pillowslip and tie off the open end. Do not try and comfort it. Next place the animal and bag into the prepared box or pet pak. Reptiles and echidnas are best scooped into and transported in large plastic garbage bins.

Keep the animal warm and quiet until you can get it home or get advice on its care. Do not allow the animal to be continually disturbed by people wishing to look at it.

Seek expert advice, either by phone or in person, from a veterinarian or the Parks and Wildlife Service. The very fact that you managed to catch the animal usually indicates that something is wrong with it. The Parks and Wildlife Service has few funds available for treating injured wildlife, and these are generally reserved for rare species. Therefore, if you have an animal treated by a vet, you may be responsible for the cost (please ask your vet first).

First 24 Hours

This advice is to assist on those occasions where you are unable to obtain professional advice or help within 24 hours.
  • Ensure both you and the animal are safe.
  • Check that it is still breathing.
  • Check for bleeding - any severe bleeding needs to be stopped by applying pressure to the wound.
  • Treat for shock.
  • Consult your vet as soon as possible.

Treatment for shock

Initially despite the trauma of injury or orphanage, there may be little evidence of shock. Symptoms often develop progressively. The most obvious symptoms of shock are that the animal is cold and has rapid pulse or breathing. A bird may have its feathers 'fluffed up' and a marsupial may be shivering.


Provide warmth immediately. Use a hot water bottle, plastic drink container or heat pad. Incandescent lightglobes, preferably blue or green bulbs of 25-40 Watt, are ideal for birds. Do not use a fan heater.

Ideally the heat source should be outside the animal's housing and directed to only heat one end of the container. This allows the animal to move closer to or further from the heat. Use a thermometer near the animal to determine the temperature. Generally animals will pant when too hot or in birds, hold their wings away from their body. WARNING: if the heat source is inside the container it must be padded or shielded to avoid direct contact with the animal. Ensure any electrical connections or wiring cannot be chewed.

Use the following air temperatures as a general guide to the warmth needed. These are to be used as a guide for shocked animals, not for general daily care.


- furred 28oC
- unfurred 32oC


- adults and fledglings 27oC
- featherless young 36oC

Place the animal in a quiet, low-light area, away from domestic pets, small children and household noises (ie a non-stressful environment). If you are using a cage for a bird make sure you cover at least 3/4 of the cage to help keep the cage warm and provide security.


Heat alone can be lethal to an ill bird. Maintain correct humidity by placing a small, open dish of water near the heat source.


Do not offer fluids or solid foods to an animal until it is warm and its condition has stabilised.

It is best to seek expert advice before trying to feed an animal. Larger animals can go up to 24 hours without food or fluids but small marsupials and birds will need fluid. Give Lectade or Vytrate (available from vets) once its condition is stable. In emergencies you could offer boiled water and glucose. Do not attempt to feed before seeking advice from your vet or the Wildlife Management Branch.

Other First Aid

Once the animal is warm and stabilised (this may take several hours) reassess the animal and give first aid where appropriate. We suggest the following actions for the more common injuries and illnesses until you can consult with your vet:

Broken Bones

Do not attempt to splint or strap suspected broken bones. Align the injured limb as near as possible to its correct position. Try to keep the animal calm.

Concussion In Birds

Place the bird in a dark, non-stressful environment such as a box. Do not supply heat. Check after two to four hours. You can test its flying ability in an uncluttered room with the blinds drawn and light on. If the bird has recovered it should be released by placing it on a branch in a tree with plenty of vegetative cover, away from pets. Birds can take up to 24 hours to recover from concussion.

Minor Cuts and Abrasions

Clean wounds in warm, salty water. Use half a teaspoon of salt to one cup of pre-boiled warm water. Then dry wounds with a clean towel.

Burns or Heat Stress

Gradually cool burns using cold water or a cold compress. Cover the burnt area with a clean, wet cloth. Overheated animals can die. Cool immediately with water or wet sponge. Overcooled animals should be warmed as for shock treatment.


Check for dehydration. This can be a problem in animals that have been in shock or unable to feed for a long time. Symptoms may include: sunken or dry eyes or dry, wrinkled skin that when pinched and lifted does not bounce back to a normal shape. If you think an animal may be dehydrated offer the animal an electrolyte solution such as Lectade or Vytrate.

Diarrhoea in Marsupials

Only give Lectade or Vytrate solution for the first 24 hours.

Cat or Dog Wounds

Clean as for minor cuts and abrasions. Due to the high risk of infections from any bites, these WILL require treatment by a vet.


Symptoms may include vomiting, convulsions and paralysis. For all of the above, ongoing observation and treatment for shock may be required and you should consult you vet as soon as possible. If the animal's condition remains stable, or its condition improves, appropriate food should be made available that is suitable for the animals stage of development and species.


Sometimes, despite all your efforts, the animal is still suffering and beyond recovery. If you are unable to get professional assistance and it looks as though the animal might die, please allow it to do so quietly and with dignity.

If it is an unusual species, it may be of scientific interest, even if it is dead. Detail on a label, who found it, where, when and what happened to it. Place the label and dead animal in a bag and freeze it. If you feel that the animal died from unnatural causes such as poisoning, refrigeration is preferable to freezing. The dead animal must be passed on to either the Parks and Wildlife Service or a public museum.

Ongoing Care

Animals that have recovered may require a continued period of rehabilitation. The facilities, equipment and food needed, varies greatly between species and the animals developmental stage. If you wish to continue to care for an animal during its rehabilitation, find out how best to do this by referring to the recommended reading at the end of this page or contacting the Parks and Wildlife Service.


Injured animals require special housing arrangements. Ask for housing advice from your vet. All animals need clean, dry bedding and water daily. To make them feel secure, provide cover in the form of a towel over the cage, a nest box, leafy native vegetation, or straw.

Your Own Health

Hygiene is vital for both animal and carer. Some diseases can be transmitted from animals to people such as ringworm and chlamydia. Always wash your hands, preferably with an anti-bacterial soap, before and after handling the animal. Wear rubber gloves if you suspect poisoning or disease and leather gloves to handle bats. Disinfect any scratches or bites and have up-to-date tetanus shots.


During 2011 two Tasmanians were diagnosed with the rare infection Tularaemia after bites and/or scratches from possums on the West Coast of Tasmania. The possums were possibly juvenile, were behaving abnormally, and were probably ill.

Tularaemia is an infection due to a bacterium called Francisella tularensis. This infection is usually of wild animals but can be transmitted to humans. Different strains of Francisella tularensis cause different types of Tularaemia.

Type A Tularaemia occurs only in Northern America and can cause severe human illness.The recent cases in Tasmania are Type B ("ulceroglandular") Tularemia. Type B Tularaemia is less severe than Type A. Type B Tularaemia is caused by the bacterium Francisella tularensis subspecies holarctica.Tularaemia does not pass from person to person.

Extensive experience in the northern hemisphere shows that the most common ways humans are infected are by the bites of ticks or insects and through handling infected wild animals and carcasses.

The Tasmanian infections appear to be the first cases of Type B Tularaemia in the southern hemisphere. These infections are highly likely to have been acquired through animal bites, and were characterised by infection of the skin, and inflammation of the lymph glands.

For further information relation to Tularaemia please follow the link to the Department of Health and Human Services:

Orphaned Birds

Most 'orphan' birds are not really orphans at all, but fledglings which have 'crash landed' on their first flight. They should be left alone or put in a safer place off the ground. Genuine orphans are rare, and usually result from a destroyed nest.

If possible, these orphans should be placed in another nest of the same species, as birds readily foster such young or in an artificial nest placed near the original nest. Alternatively, nestlings can be hand-reared. The most important considerations in hand-rearing orphaned nestlings are: hygiene, diet, brooder temperature and weaning. Avoid the bird imprinting on you by using a hand puppet of the parent bird.


Hygiene is the single most important factor in preventing disease in young birds. Fresh food should be made up for each feed. Use separate utensils for each bird or batch of birds. After each feed, boil and soak the utensils in a disinfectant solution such as Miltons or Aviclens. Rinse utensils before use.


Different birds eat different food types and there are commercial hand-raising feeds available for each type. The types you are most likely to encounter are; granivores, insectivores, nectivores and carnivores. It is important to accurately identify the bird so that it can be fed the correct diet. Home-made recipes abound, but do not have the same reliable nutrient content or quality as the commercial mixes. Egg and biscuit is inadequate.

Vetafarm, Roudybush and Wombaroo all offer commercial products for orphaned birds.


Nestlings will require warmth and a 50-60% humidity. Please refer to the recommended reading, the Parks and Wildlife Service or your vet for detailed information on diet, temperature and weaning of orphaned birds.

Orphaned Marsupials

Successfully raising these animals takes commitment and dedication. As a wildlife carer there are some basic steps you must follow.


Hygiene is a priority. Sterilise all utensils including teats and bottles. Soak then wash pouches and towels using a product such as Napisan.

Never leave animals in pouches that are wet or dirty. Use a warm, damp cloth to wipe off any milk spilt during feeding. Marsupial mothers lick the anal area of their young to stimulate the passing of urine and faeces; you can duplicate this effect by gently wiping the anal area with moist tissues a few times before each feed. This also helps to keep the bedding clean.

Diet and Feeding

Diet varies for each species and its stage of development. However all pouch-dependant young require a low lactose or lactose-free milk formula. Specialised marsupial milk formulas include Wombaroo and Biolac, available from vets and product agents. Also suitable is Di-Vetelact, a low lactose milk formula, available from most veterinary clinics. Never feed soybean, Carnation, condensed or cow's milk to marsupials.

Pouch young should only be fed with specially-shaped, marsupial, latex teats. To successfully rehabilitate orphans requires establishing 'gut flora'. In some cases this may be achieved by allowing weaning herbivores access to droppings from healthy individuals from the same species. In 24 hours a young marsupial should drink no more than 10% -20% of its body weight (note: 1 ml = 1 gram). For example take a 600 gram wallaby: 10% of its weight is 60 gms, which is equivalent to 60 mls of fluid. This wallaby should have between 60 mls (10%) and 120 mls (20%) of milk over a 24 hour period. Weigh the animal as a guide for feeding and as a record for its development. The first 48 hours of care are often the most critical.

Pouches and Warmth

Security and warmth are vital to the survival of orphaned pouch young. Use pouches made from natural products. A woollen pouch (old jumper) with a cotton liner (old pillowslips) that can be regularly changed is ideal. Place the pouch in a padded basket, box or old canvas backpack for added protection. As the animal develops, make sure that it can enter and leave the pouch of its own accord.

An unfurred joey requires a constant pouch temperature of around 32 C. As the joey develops fur this can be gradually decreased to 28 C. Furred young should be allowed a few minutes of direct sun light each day, even if just on the face, to promote vitamin production. Once a joey has developed thick fur it should be able to maintain its own body temperature and should not need a heating device. Hot water bottles and electric heat pads work best. Make sure the heat source is padded and is not in direct contact with the animal. The joey must also be able to get away from the heat source if it gets too hot, otherwise it could overheat and die. Always have a thermometer handy to regularly check the temperature. Regularly refill hot water bottles.

Stress-free Environment

Keep animals away from loud noises such as televisions and radios. Pouch dependant young should not be removed from their pouch except for toileting or changing of pouch liners. Never allow orphaned wildlife to have contact with cats, dogs or poultry as they can develop diseases or lose fear of natural predators.


Please remember, that most of our wildlife is wholly protected and can only be rehabilitated with a permit. Failure to have a permit carries a heavy fine.

  Permit for Rehabilitation of Wildlife   (286Kb)

Recommended Reading

Austin, M. A. (1995). A practical guide to the successful hand rearing of Tasmanian marsupials. Regal Publications.
Cannon, Dr. M. J. A Guide to Basic Health and Disease in birds. Australian Bird Keeper.
Carers Newsletter: Noises from the Bush. PO Box 449, Nth Hobart 7002.
Smith, B. (1995) Caring for Possums. Kangaroo Press.
Watts, D. (1987) Tasmanian Mammals A Field Guide. Tasmanian ConservationTrust.
White, S. (1998) Caring for Australian Wildlife. Australian Geographic.


Wildlife Management Branch
134 Macquarie Street
GPO Box 44
Phone: 03 6165 4305
Fax: 03 6173 0253

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