2016 May - Caring for wildlife

Veterinarians are often called upon to examine sick, injured or orphaned native animals. A veterinarian must not refuse to provide relief of pain or suffering to an animal in his or her presence. As outlined in clause 3 of the Veterinary practitioner’s code of professional conduct (Code), relief of pain includes:

  • (a) First aid treatment
  • (b) Timely referral to another veterinarian
  • (c) Euthanasia


Veterinarians can provide further treatment but, where appropriate (for instance you don’t have the experience, knowledge or appropriate equipment) they must also utilise the skills of colleagues by consultation or referral (as in clause 5 of the Code).

Once the native animal no longer requires veterinary treatment, veterinarians should not try to rehabilitate the animal unless they have a licence issued by the Office of Environment and Heritage NSW (OEH) for this purpose. Under the National Parks and Wildlife Act 1974, OEH grants licences to groups and some individuals to rehabilitate native animals.

So, if a member of the public finds sick, injured or orphaned wildlife they should be advised not to try to catch or rescue the animal but to contact a licensed rehabilitation group or individual. The OEH has contact details for all licensed groups on its website (see below).

A Code of practice for injured, sick and orphaned protected fauna has been developed by OEH in consultation with the NSW Wildlife Council (the peak body for wildlife rescue and rehabilitation in NSW), Taronga Conservation Society and the RSPCA NSW and is supported by the NSW Animal Welfare Advisory Council.

The Code of practice requires that if the animal is sick, injured, likely to have been injured or an orphan arrangements must be made for an assessment by a veterinarian or experienced rehabilitator; if death is considered to be imminent or highly likely arrangements must be made for humane euthanasia.

This Code of practice and other guidelines can also be downloaded from the OEH website www.environment.nsw.gov.au/wildlifelicences/RehabFauna.htm