The iconic Currumbin Wildlife Hospital is on the brink of extinction, while developers pocket millions clearing vegetation across the Gold Coast.
The iconic Currumbin Wildlife Hospital is on the brink of extinction, while developers pocket millions clearing vegetation across the Gold Coast.

Iconic wildlife hospital is on brink of extinction

THE iconic Currumbin Wildlife Hospital is on the brink of extinction, using second-hand or broken equipment and struggling to turn on the lights as record numbers of injured animals come through its doors.

To help save it, Australia's busiest native wildlife hospital believes developers pocketing millions of dollars by clearing vegetation to make way for new shopping centres and mega towers should be slugged a tax - because at the moment it says it doesn't receive a cent from them.

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Currumbin Wildlife Hospital veterinarian Tina Tugwell administers medical treatment to an Australian native Southern Boobook Owl which was a rescued at Burleigh Heads. Photo: Scott Powick.
Currumbin Wildlife Hospital veterinarian Tina Tugwell administers medical treatment to an Australian native Southern Boobook Owl which was a rescued at Burleigh Heads. Photo: Scott Powick.

The hospital, covered financially for only the next three months, had 14,000 wildlife admissions last year. This is up from 12,200 the year before and well ahead of Australia Zoo's estimated 8000.

"It would make absolute sense for the Gold Coast City Council to require developers to pay a levy or fee as part of the development application process," hospital foundation director Whitney Luzzo-Kelly said.

"Perhaps developers could also erect signage educating the public on what wildlife is on the property and what they can do to take care of it.

"We know the hoops that developers have to go through, and know at times they feel angry at us, but we're screaming out for an agreement between government, the council and developers to help secure the financial security of the hospital and perhaps land because we simply can't afford any at today's prices."

 

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A koala being treated at the Currumbin Wildlife Hospital. Photo: Steve Holland Photography
A koala being treated at the Currumbin Wildlife Hospital. Photo: Steve Holland Photography

Mrs Luzzo-Kelly said operating costs were currently $1.8 million "just to turn the lights on and keep staff employed" and that staff were using second-hand or broken equipment.

She said the Gold Coast City Council had committed to $37,000 per year for 2021-25 using funds from Divisions 3, 5, 8, 12, 13 and 14. It also contributed $150,000 over five years to a research project, but not operating costs.

The state government contributes $250,000 per year, which is currently in a one-year extension, with a renewal submission being considered for 2021-25 budgets. The federal government committed $250,000 over four years. That deal is in its third year.

"However, this only covers 30 per cent of our hospital and foundation operating costs, the rest of the $1.26 million we have to source through community donations, of which we appreciate every dollar and couldn't do what we do without the support we receive," Mrs Luzzo-Kelly said.

 

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Currumbin Wildlife Hospital Foundation director Whitney Luzzo-Kelly hopes that a partnership can be formed whereby Gold Coast developers are required to contribute funds to help with the hospital’s operating costs. Photo: Lana Noir
Currumbin Wildlife Hospital Foundation director Whitney Luzzo-Kelly hopes that a partnership can be formed whereby Gold Coast developers are required to contribute funds to help with the hospital’s operating costs. Photo: Lana Noir

A spokeswoman for council said: "The City supports Currumbin Wildlife Hospital through a multiple year funding agreement in the amount of $50,000 per annum to assist with the development of a koala chlamydia vaccine. This agreement will expire on 30 June, 2023. The City also has a multiple-year funding agreement in the amount of $37,000 per annum for operational costs. This agreement will expire on 30 June 2024.

"Currumbin Wildlife Hospital was also divisionally supported."

Asked if the council would consider enforcing a developer levy to go to the hospital, the spokeswoman said: "Under the Planning Act development infrastructure charges can only be used for trunk infrastructure and not distributed to third parties."

Mrs Luzzo-Kelly said the foundation had been hit hard during COVID, with many financiers having to stop contributions.

 

The Currumbin Wildlife Hospital has been caring for an Australian native Southern Boobook Owl is treated Photo: Scott Powick
The Currumbin Wildlife Hospital has been caring for an Australian native Southern Boobook Owl is treated Photo: Scott Powick

"This is why we'd like to think the sectors that are flourishing, the building and development industry, may consider it their social responsibility to help the hospital financially."

Currumbin Wildlife Hospital senior vet Dr Michael Pyne said in his 20-year tenure, admissions had increased every single year.

"Our biggest challenge is that we're always playing catch up with funding and chasing our tail.

"I'd love to be able to say I feel comfortable about the long-term financial future of our hospital, but the fact is we're only covered for the next three months."

 

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Currumbin Wildlife Hospital veterinarian Tina Tugwell with the assistance of vet nurse Jasmine Pereira work on an injured Flying Fox. Photo: Scott Powick
Currumbin Wildlife Hospital veterinarian Tina Tugwell with the assistance of vet nurse Jasmine Pereira work on an injured Flying Fox. Photo: Scott Powick

 

HUMANS TO BLAME FOR 90 PER CENT WILDLIFE INJURIES

 

HUMANS are to blame for 90 per cent of the admissions of native wildlife to the Currumbin Wildlife Sanctuary Hospital, according to senior vet Dr Michael Pyne.

"Whether it's displacement because of vegetation clearing, a koala being hit by a car because it's searching for a new home or a bird flying entangled in fishing line," he said. "We've really got to be sure the right balance is being struck in regards to the way the removal of vegetation is approved and managed. In a perfect world you wouldn't chop down one tree, but more and more people do have to live somewhere."

Dr Pyne's comments come as residents in Nerang this week accused a developer of cutting down hundreds of trees despite plans to use only a fraction of the land, and locals in Burleigh Heads blew up after a historic Norfolk Island pine was damaged.

 

A koala patient at Currumbin Wildlife Hospital. Photo: Steve Holland Photography
A koala patient at Currumbin Wildlife Hospital. Photo: Steve Holland Photography

"Once habitat is taken down and something built in its place, the homes of those animals are gone forever and of course this has an impact on the wildlife," Dr Pyne said.

"Crucially, they can't just move into surrounding habitats because there are already animals that live there, so there's a cascading effect."

Dr Pyne said he had "no doubt" he was seeing more animals as a result of increased development on the Gold Coast, and while it was easy to blame council and developers for "knocking down habitats", there was a way locals could help.

"People often overlook what they can do in their own backyards. Displaced animals and birds need somewhere to live and by planting native bushes and trees, locals can help wildlife flourish."

 

 

Currumbin Wildlife Hospital’s senior vet Dr Michael Pyne assists Vet Tina Tugwell during a period that the hospital is having record admissions. Photo: Scott Powick
Currumbin Wildlife Hospital’s senior vet Dr Michael Pyne assists Vet Tina Tugwell during a period that the hospital is having record admissions. Photo: Scott Powick

February is Currumbin Wildlife Hospital awareness month, with the organisation working to educate the community and raise much-needed funds.

On February 27 locals can get a behind-the-scenes tour of the hospital and learn about the medical care each animal receives. Bookings are essential. Money raised is used to treat, rehabilitate and release wildlife. Details are at currumbinwildlifehospital.org.au

 

 

 

emily.toxward@news.com.au

 

 

 

 

 

Originally published as Why iconic Coast wildlife hospital is on brink of extinction


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