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Australia Zoo wildlife hospital issues 10/10/2015

AUSTRALIA Zoo Wildlife Hospital management’s push to replace vet nurses with unqualified staff has led to disturbing animal welfare cases and allegations of mistreatment.

Australia Zoo Animal Hospital spokesman refuses to comment on why Terri Irwin didn’t respond to letter of concern.
TERRI Irwin was warned two months ago about the dire situation at the Australia Zoo Wildlife Hospital but the staff who appealed to her did not receive a response.

The Sunday Mail yesterday revealed allegations of animal mistreatment and suffering at the world-famous hospital caused by a trend towards hiring unqualified staff for vet nurse roles.

Four senior vets sent a letter to Ms Irwin, one of the hospital’s seven directors, in August outlining fears that the reputation of the wildlife hospital and its ability to provide care was at risk.
The email warned that too many staff members were unqualified or inexperienced, which was affecting the standard of veterinary care. Lack of experience meant animals were not being treated in a timely manner and there was a risk to their welfare.

Later, one of the vets who had signed the letter was sacked mid-surgery while another was pushed aside from her position as head vet. The not-for-profit hospital is promoted as the largest and busiest wildlife hospital in Australia and the largest “of its kind” in the world.
A spokesman would not comment on why Ms Irwin didn’t address the concerns.
A Biosecurity Queensland spokesperson said the authority would be contacting Australia Zoo to discuss the issues raised.
Sources said that the situation had worsened since the letter was written and that injured animals had gone for days before receiving treatment.
Errors have included a koala suffering a broken arm at the hospital and the injury going undetected for several weeks.
Other koalas allegedly had to undergo emergency surgery after having medication incorrectly administered.
President of the Australian Veterinary Association, Robert Johnson, said he was surprised by the allegations considering Australia Zoo’s good work.
“This seems highly irregular. I await the results of a thorough investigation into the hospital management,” he said.


YOUR SAY: Zoo has lost support until situation is rectified
  • "HOW horrific to learn of the choas at Australia Zoo wildlife hospital (Daily, October 3). This facility was the envy of all animal care and rehab in Australia. To have Dr Lacasse resign because she could not work with the cutbacks to qualified staff is alarming but also the departing staff citing inferior care to the extent that after a letter to Terri Irwin was ignored, contacted Queensland Health claiming serious cases of mistreatment and incorrect supply of medication by unqualified staff. This facility, the envy of the world, is now being run as a business for profit at all costs. Now I understand why Bob Irwin left, dejected at the way the zoo was heading, and I'm sure there is a tear in heaven from Steve as he would never have allowed this. Will I continue my monetary support for the hospital? No. Will I recommend people visit the zoo? No. Not until this deplorable situation is rectified." - Mt Coolum 
  • "It has been obvious for some many months that Terri, Bindi and family are more into the publicity than they are into the animals." - Meridan Plains 
  • "The zoo has NOT been the same since Steve and Bob left..things have got to change or there will be a decline over the next few years...JK" - West Woombye 
  • "Let me preface my response by declaring that there is no-one I know who finds the crikey-culture down Beerwah way more appalling than me. 
  • But fair is fair. For whatever reason this business has seen fit to change, maybe even cease, a charitable work for reasons best known to themselves. 
  • You, Robyn Jay, have no right to expect them to continue unless you are prepared to fund the operation yourself." - Sippy Downs 
  • "Steve's sister also has a big say in operations. I have friends who have worked at the zoo. And the stories I have heard first hand are terrible." - Maroochydore Bc 
  • "It was ever only about selling tickets for the zoo." - Mount Coolum 
  • "Steve's brother in law - his sisters husband - used to be one of the big bosses at the zoo as well. We haven't been there for over seven years and won't be going back - high priced disappointment back then."



Irwin family’s zoo hospital in crisis: vets bailing, unqualified staff, turtle left to rot, wrong drugs injected

AUSTRALIA’S largest wildlife hospital is in turmoil amid an unprecedented staff exodus and allegations of mistreatment. Sources say a management push to replace vet nurses at Australia Zoo Wildlife Hospital with unqualified staff has led to disturbing animal welfare cases.

The Sunday Mail can reveal staff were so concerned about dropping veterinary standards they secretly urged Queensland Health to perform an audit which uncovered non-compliant practices.

The five areas of non-compliance included unqualified staff administering schedule 4 medicines and vet nurses dosing patients with schedule 8 controlled drugs. The hospital was ordered to address those issues which were in breach of the Health (Drugs and Poisons) Regulation 1996.

Vets and vet nurses have been quitting in despair, saying the changes had “made it impossible to practice good medicine”.

Departing staff cited their disappointment with “inferior” veterinary practices leading to animals receiving a lesser standard of treatment.

It’s claimed an influx of inexperienced recruits — some of whom had never worked with wildlife — may have led to broken bones being accidentally inflicted on koalas in their care.

Patients also were wrongly administered drugs and in one example medication that should have gone into a bird’s throat was entered into the windpipe.

In another example a turtle’s necrotic shell was not detected for days, despite the smell, because staff did not realise the odour was unusual.

Sources say the Wildlife Hospital relies on experienced vet nurses to monitor and treat a variety of wild and traumatised species.

But recent cases of injuries, illnesses or trauma allegedly inflicted on animals or that went undetected because of inexperience include:

* Baxter and Jenkins, koalas suffered broken limbs possibly after being dropped. Baxter’s broken arm went undetected for weeks.

* Pooh, a koala had to undergo emergency treatment after fluid meant for injection under the skin was wrongly administered into the lungs.

* Woody, a koala was given an incorrect dose of insulin and had a hyperglycaemic attack and needed emergency treatment.

* Pacific baza (bird of prey), had its leg broken due to inappropriate handling and had to be euthanised.

It’s been calculated 12 vet nurses and four vets have left the hospital from a staffing pool of 16 nurses and four vets, including esteemed head vet Dr Claude Lacasse.

Dr Lacasse was twice awarded for her commitment to the hospital but it’s understood she resigned after finding the reduction in standards untenable. Newer employees have also legged it, with some only lasting a few days before realising they were out of their depth.

Four vet staff wrote a letter to Wildlife Hospital director Terri Irwin outlining their concerns regarding staffing and quality care but did not receive a response.

The hospital now has only one full-time vet on duty and less than half the number of vet nurses Some of the unqualified recruits had worked in shoe sales, a call centre or zookeeping at Australia Zoo before taking on responsibility for rescued wildlife.

More resignations are expected as remaining staff struggle with an onslaught of injured animals during the annual koala “trauma” season.

An Australia Zoo Wildlife Hospital spokesman did not respond to specific questions but issued a statement saying the hospital team was highly skilled, with over 50 years’ combined veterinary experience.

“This expertise with the most up-to-date practices allows us to maintain the highest standard of animal care at the Australia Zoo Wildlife Hospital,” she said. “Our world-class facility welcomes visitors and the public to witness first-hand the lifesaving treatment of our native wildlife.”


Australia Zoo exodus: ‘Vet sacked during an operation’

A VETERINARIAN at Terri Irwin's Australia Zoo Wildlife Hospital was allegedly sacked mid-surgery last month, as staff turnover spirals and fears for animal safety increase.

Sources say 12 staff have left in the past six months, including the highly-regarded head vet Dr Claude Lacasse.

Vet Dr Jackie Reed was allegedly stopped while operating on a koala and told she was out of a job. It's understood the Wildlife Hospital employs 16 nursing staff and four vets at a time.

More than half of these have had to be replaced or the positions are still vacant, with the zoo advertising on its website.

The hospital is one of the projects operated by Australia Zoo Wildlife Warriors Ltd, a registered charity.

It is funded by donations and the Sunshine Coast Council contributes $50,000 a year as part of its draft Koala Conservation Plan.

All staff employed at the zoo are required to sign confidentiality contracts on employment and those concerned about what is happening there say they are afraid of speaking out for fear of being sued.

Australia Zoo declined to comment on the staffing situation, preferring instead to focus on the good work of the hospital.

But at least four sources, plus two carers who agreed to be quoted directly, have contacted the Daily and provided insight into the situation.

Wildlife carers Margaret Hewitt and Diane Meldrum revealed they no longer felt comfortable sending sick animals there.

In the past month, six nurses have left and Dr Lacasse, who had been employed at the zoo for seven years, quit two weeks ago.

"Ever since Australia Zoo got involved in the management of the hospital it has gone downhill. The management is terrible," one source said.

"People have contacted Terri (Irwin) with their problems and she just doesn't get back to them."

Concerns were being raised about the level of service at the once world-class hospital.

"The animals are being handled by inexperienced staff.

"There were two cases where inexperienced staff members broke the limbs on animals in their care.

"In another instance, a nurse injected an animal with an oral antibiotic."

A source told how Dr Reed was allegedly sacked in the middle of an operation in September.

"She was doing surgery on a koala when management came in and called her to the (termination) meeting," the source said.

"She asked if she could finish the surgery, but she was told that she had to pass it to someone else to complete."

Those who spoke up were moved on.

Dr Lacasse had apparently resigned as "she thought what they were doing was not good for the animals".

"They used to be the best team ever there. Dr Lacasse had the same team for two years, now they are all leaving," the source said.

"The management doesn't know how to run it as a hospital, but they are trying to run it like a zoo.''

Ms Hewitt was the first carer at the Wildlife Hospital but has also left.

"It seems management are departing from the whole idea Steve (Irwin) had," she said.

In response to questions about staffing, an Australia Zoo spokeswoman wrote the following:

"The Australia Zoo Wildlife Hospital is a not-for-profit organisation that has treated over 59,000 native Australian animals to date.

"We have a highly-skilled team who are committed to continuing the life-saving work at the hospital with over 50 years of combined veterinary experience.

"This expertise with the most up to date practises allows us to maintain the highest standard of animal care at the Australia Zoo Wildlife Hospital.

"Our world-class facility welcomes visitors and the public to witness firsthand the life-saving treatment of our native wildlife. The hospital also serves as a free community service, treating all sick and injured wildlife admitted regardless of cost.

"If you would like to find out more about the Australia Zoo Wildlife Hospital visit :wildlifewarriors.org.au."

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