Dr. Michael Pyne, Currumbin Wildlife Hospital
To see an animal get released and get back home – that's the moment we all do it for ...
This year, the Currumbin Wildlife Hospital celebrates its 30th year. That’s three whole decades of treating sick and injured wildlife, which is a mammoth task for the hospital’s general manager and senior vet, Dr. Michael Pyne. It was back in 2000 when Dr. Pyne first came on board at the hospital – and every day since he has worked tirelessly alongside a team of talented vets, supported by passionate volunteers, to give care and treatment for a seemingly endless number of patients. Last year, more than 11,000 animals came through the hospital at an estimated cost of more than $1 million. Numbers are increasing, but it simply can’t be sustained without funding. On Saturday March 25, The Currumbin Wildlife Hospital Foundation will host its annual Benefit Under the Stars, to raise much needed funds to continue its 30 year legacy of treating sick and injured wildlife. In the spirit of this milestone year, we caught up with Dr Pyne to chat about what he sees on a daily basis (from hairy-nosed wombats to rainbow lorikeets) and what goes on behind the scenes at this incredible facility.
As the general manager and senior vet of the Currumbin Wildlife Hospital – what does an average day for you entail?
Look, (laughs) well a bit of everything really! Our hospital really is an accident and emergency hospital – every day is different. You know, you have quiet spells and crazy busy spells. My day is trying to balance between doing animals and essentially running the place, and, well unfortunately trying to raise money to keep this open. It’s all over the place and I am always chasing my tail trying to keep up! There’s really never a dull moment, though. I have been here that long though, that I can genuinely remember being bored when I first arrived here – those days are long, long gone!
Were you always destined for this career?
It was always the dream to work with wildlife. Back then though, wildlife or zoo vetting was a very tough career to get into as there were very few places you could to. I guess this was always where I wanted to get to, and I did! As a youngster it was when I realised I could actually get the scored to get into vet school that I thought, yeah I can really do make this happen!
It’s documented that around 11,000 patients came through the hospital last year, which is massive! What’s the most common case you see come through?
The most common is rainbow lorikeets – we saw around 1700 rainbow lorikeets last year. Though, we also saw almost 500 koalas last year, which is a huge number. They are a threatened species and a very important species. To throw a stat at you – just 10 years ago we saw 28 koalas in a year – and last year it was 471. It’s a frightening rise.
We know you’ve been vocal over the years about the threats to and conservation of local koalas. What’s their biggest threat on the Gold Coast, and is there light at the end of the tunnel?
Certainly chlamydial disease is the major risk they have, and there’s also habitat destruction – they’ve got to have somewhere to live, that goes without saying. There’s also trauma through cars and dogs, which are always significant. But still, 60 per cent of our koala submissions come in because they are sick, and most of those are from chlamydia. If there wasn’t this disease in koalas, they wouldn’t be threatened. Is there light at the tunnel? Yes, because a vaccine has been developed and it shows a lot of promise. So it’s a matter of rolling that out in a significant way to try and make a difference. We’re hoping to have a major project start here shortly where we’ll be vaccinating a significant number of wild koalas, so we’re really hoping to make a difference out there. If we don’t manage it, we’re not going to have koalas here in the future.
What would be the most challenging and rewarding parts of your day-to-day work?
The challenging part is trying to balance everything! I guess the fun bit is treating the animals, but the truly rewarding part is releasing the animals. To see an animal get released and come to life and get back home – that’s the moment we all do it for. It’s rare that we’ve got a day that isn’t very busy and, well, a struggle in a way. The only days when things are kind of calm is when there’s very heavy rain and people aren’t out on the roads and the animals bunker down! Outside of that, every day is a really busy and intense day.
You would have seen a lot over the past 19 years. What are some of the weird and wacky patients you’ve come across?
We do get a lot of weird ones – there’s ways the golfball snakes that get a lot of attention, but I guess the really odd ones for us are when we get an animal that we’re not used to seeing. Because the hospital has been here for 30 years, people all over Australia know about us. I can remember getting a thorny devil, which is like a little lizard from way out near Birdsville – some truckie found it at a truck stop there and thought ‘ohh, I’m eventually going past Currumbin, I’ll take it there’. So it ended up with us, but then there was the hassle of trying to get it back to where it came from! We also saw a southern hairy nosed wombat from way down in South Australia that had been hit by a car – people found it that we’re coming up this way, and brought it to us! So it’s always interesting getting ones like that, which you don’t expect.
For us, the general public – a lot of us see the alarming stats and are aware of the tireless work that the Currumbin Wildlife Hospital team does … so, what can we do to help?
Our big struggle is that our admissions grow every year. Each year I think that this will be the year where it flattens off, but it seems that it’s this tide that you can’t slow turn and we’re increasing by about 7 per cent every year. So it really is the funding to keep up with that. It’s the medication, the food, the equipment to treat and manage. People are also able to volunteer – the hospital has around 120 volunteers and there’s always a need for more – so contributing time is also another way to help out.
Keen to throw your support behind Mr Michael Pyne and the team? The Currumbin Wildlife Hospital Foundation will host its annual Benefit Under the Stars on Saturday May 25 to raise much needed funds to continue its 30 year legacy of treating sick and injured wildlife. Head to our Event Guide for more information!