New, improved wildlife hospital opens in Palmerston North video

David Unwin/Stuff

The new Wildbase building is open at Massey University, Palmerston North.

The first patients have been shifted into a new $1.4 million wildlife hospital in Palmerston North that can treat twice as many birds and reptiles.

Wildbase, the only dedicated wildlife hospital in the country, officially opened its doors on Friday.

It was sharing space with the rest of the Massey University veterinary hospital, but now has its own purpose-built space, 10 times as big, where it can treat as many as 600 patients annually.

A yellow-eyed penguin and a kea were the first to tentatively explore their new cages after Friday's opening ceremony. The penguin was healing from a gash to its foot from an unknown predator, and the kea was nursing a wound in its mouth, following surgery to remove abscessed flesh. 

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Director Brett Gartrell was thrilled to have the new facility for treatment, research and teaching. 

"Wild animals are stressed and they often come to us very late in their illness when they are quite exhausted. So the first stage of hospitalisation is very critical to their survival." 

Patients come from throughout the country, and last year about 42 per cent were endangered or threatened native species.

For many of these populations each animal that survives and adds to the breeding gene pool can make a significant difference to the survival of the species, he said.  

The hub of the operation is a long bright white treatment and X-ray room. Small side rooms can be set up as environments suitable for different species.

Penguins like lower temperatures and rubber matting on the floor, while kiwi might have plants added to their room, and are nocturnal. A lab runs down one side of the treatment room, and a nearby intensive care unit houses a long row of white brooders – temperature and humidity-controlled cages for very sick animals. 

The old facilities were so cramped a hawk's cage could be side by side with a fantail's, and while staff draped towels over the cages to hide them, the shared sounds and smells added stress, Gartrell said. 

Pride of place is a sterile surgical room with overhead cameras so students do not have to crowd around the surgeons. 

A glass-walled public display room at the front of the building allows the public to view recovering animals from outdoors, while a pet treatment room will help generate income. 

Last year Wildbase staff saw 53 different species, with a wide range of injuries and infections. Top patients were kereru, Australian harrier, North Island brown kiwi, tui, sacred kingfisher, little blue penguin and tuatara.

​Construction of a Wildbase Recovery centre is scheduled to start soon. It will house recuperating animals in public view at the popular Victoria Esplanade gardens.

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Wildbase director Brett Gartrell holds a kea, which was one of the first animals to be transferred to the new site.
DAVID UNWIN/FAIRFAX

Wildbase director Brett Gartrell holds a kea, which was one of the first animals to be transferred to the new site.

Wildlife technician Pauline Nijman helps a yellow-eyed penguin adjust to its new surroundings.
David Unwin/Fairfax NZ.

Wildlife technician Pauline Nijman helps a yellow-eyed penguin adjust to its new surroundings.

One of the surgical rooms at Wildbase.
David Unwin/Fairfax NZ.

One of the surgical rooms at Wildbase.

The Wildbase team at the opening.
David Unwin/Fairfax NZ.

The Wildbase team at the opening.

 - Stuff

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