For Dr Bree Talbot, scoring the job as foundation vet at Byron Bay Wildlife Hospital in the idyllic Northern Rivers was a dream come true. By Dr Phil Tucak
Upon graduating as a veterinarian Dr Bree Talbot had aspirations of becoming a wildlife veterinarian. Fast forward a decade and she has landed herself an exciting role working as the foundation veterinarian at the newly opened Byron Bay Wildlife Hospital.
The position sees her juggling the care and treatment of a diverse array of sick and injured wildlife, while equipping the clinic and developing the protocols for the new facility, together with dealing with the sleep deprivation and demands of raising a young family. Dr Talbot is relishing the challenge and has quickly adapted to her new life living and working on the northern New South Wales coast.
Call of the wild
With a prior degree in agricultural science and an interest in zoo animals, Dr Talbot graduated from the University of Sydney in 2010. She initially worked in mixed animal practice for several years before moving back to Sydney to work in small animal practice where she was able to take on more wildlife and exotic pet cases to increase her clinical experience in this area.
“While working in private practice and seeing the wildlife cases, I realised that these animals needed help and many vets weren’t able to give the care required—either due to lack of finances, knowledge or time, so I would often stay back or in my lunchtime do all the wildlife cases. I found it very rewarding and hence began my journey into wildlife medicine.
“I was then asked if I wanted to work for the University of Sydney’s Avian Reptile and Exotic Pet Hospital and I stayed there for six years. I was exposed to a wide range of cases as it was a primary accession and referral practice for unusual pets in addition to being a wildlife hospital. I got to see everything from spiders to wombats, koalas to welcome swallows—so I was very lucky,” says Dr Talbot.
During her tenure at the University of Sydney vet hospital, Dr Talbot achieved her memberships in the medicine and surgery of unusual pets. When the foundation veterinarian position at Byron Bay Wildlife Hospital was advertised, Dr Talbot knew it was the perfect job for her.
“To be able to look after wildlife in a more meaningful and consistent basis—it is my dream job. When the bushfires occurred earlier this year, I had a nine-week-old baby at home and felt helpless for all the wildlife that were affected and the vets that were trying to help them. So when this position popped up on my computer, I applied straight away as I felt I could really try and make a difference.
“Being involved in a new facility has been exciting, busy and a steep learning curve. There has been lots of different aspects of wildlife care and rehabilitation to consider in addition to the administration component of setting up the facility. Being a not-for-profit charity is something that is new to me, so I am learning every day how it operates and how best to showcase our vision. I have also had to readjust my thinking—I can’t just order whatever I want as I have to figure out where we will get the money from to buy it!”
On the move
Founded by veterinarians Dr Stephen Van Mil and Dr Evan Kosack, the Byron Bay Wildlife Hospital relies on donations for its operation and has already attracted significant support from wildlife conservation organisations and members of the general public. “Unfortunately, no-one pays the expensive veterinary bills to provide this care to wildlife, so we need ongoing funding support through charitable donations,” says Dr Van Mil, the organisation’s chief executive officer. “All contributions small or large are vital—and go directly to saving wildlife. We’re committed to meeting the high demand for specialist care of our voiceless wildlife,”
Starting from scratch, Dr Talbot and the team at Byron Bay Wildlife Hospital have been working hard to have the facility ready for this summer’s bushfire season. The wildlife hospital is initially being run out of Lennox Head Vet Clinic, while plans to build a new bricks and mortar facility are underway on 100 acres of gifted land at Ewingsdale, with the facility anticipated to be completed by 2022.
In the meantime, fundraising has enabled the purchase and fitting out of a specially designed mobile wildlife hospital—in a truck which will be able to be deployed anywhere across Australia in the event of a wildlife emergency.
“One challenge has been to make sure we are ready if another catastrophic event like last summer’s bushfires happen again, getting the truck mobilised and actually getting it to or as close to the location needed and making sure we have all the required gear and medication. We have been busy setting up literally everything, from looking at computer software programs to writing grant proposals for rabies vaccinations, together with compiling lists of the equipment we need and want—a real wish list—and advertising for a veterinary nurse.
“We’ve also been going through the donations we have generously received from the public to see what we have and what we still need to get. As the mobile wildlife hospital is a new concept, there are always new things we think about like working out how everything will fit into a moving vehicle,” said Dr Talbot.
Experience and expertise
In only its first few months of operation, the Byron Bay Wildlife Hospital has already seen a wide variety of cases, with the local community keen to make use of the much-anticipated facility.
“The community has been so supportive and excited about this new facility and always mention how long they have waited for a facility like this to be built. The Northern Rivers region is considered an extremely biologically rich part of Australia, so I have been lucky enough to already have seen echidnas, yellow-face whip snakes, coastal carpet pythons, green fig birds, green sea turtles, green tree frogs and Macquarie River turtles just to name a few.
“A lot of the cases are coming in due to human or domestic animal interactions—only recently I had a large and very feisty eastern brown snake brought in that was trapped in bird netting and required treatment for the wounds to her scales, along with an X-ray to make sure she had not fractured her ribs while trying to untangle herself,” says Dr Talbot.
The Byron Bay Wildlife Hospital is supported by an experienced board of wildlife veterinarians, specialist vets and other professionals who are available to provide guidance and expertise to the operational team. This has given Dr Talbot the opportunity to learn from some of the best wildlife veterinarians in Australia, supporting her personal goal of widening her veterinary knowledge and growing as a clinician, to be able to provide the best care and treatment for the wildlife in her care.
“I am very fortunate to have several very experienced wildlife vets that I can seek advice from, including Dr Larry Vogelnest from Taronga Zoo, Dr David Blyde from Seaworld’s Research and Rescue Foundation, and Dr Evan Kosack from Lennox Head Vet Clinic, in addition to the wonderful wildlife and zoo vet community around Australia. I can either phone, text, email or Facebook message someone for advice and often get a reply within an hour. It’s great to be able to bounce ideas off other wildlife veterinarians and see what their experiences have been,” enthuses Dr Talbot.
Relocating to Byron Bay with a young family has been a busy and exciting time for the vet. “I have a 12-month-old girl and a nearly three-year-old boy, and while initially trying to find day care places was difficult, it has been wonderful to see my son Hunter get so excited when I talk about the animals at work, and he so desperately wants to help. I think we will have another wildlife enthusiast soon which really makes me happy.”
There are several ways the pubic can support the Byron Bay Wildlife Hospital, says Dr Van Mil. “The primary thing people or organisations can do to help is to donate towards the significant ongoing costs of operating our mobile wildlife hospital—including the purchase of diagnostic and surgical equipment and supplies, medicines and ancillary costs. They can also support us by subscribing to our newsletters, following us on Facebook and Instagram and expressing interest to be part of our Volunteer Program.” For more information about the Byron Bay Wildlife Hospital: