Enjoying close encounters with wildlife

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Important work . . . Dunedin Wildlife Hospital volunteer Suzanne Benham. PHOTO: SHAWN MCAVINUE

Suzanne Benham has taken a lifelong love of animals and used it to do something good.

A United States native, Mrs Benham moved to New Zealand four years ago.

She has been volunteering at the Dunedin Wildlife Hospital since November last year, and she said she wanted to do her part to help out because “I really believe in the work they do.”

“So much of our wildlife is so hugely threatened and I think it’s important to not just try and get rid of pests but to keep alive the animals that we have.”

It was not difficult for volunteers to get involved.

“I started off as a donor. And then I received an email where they were looking for volunteers.

“I signed up to go through an induction. It’s my first volunteer position in New Zealand.”

Mrs Benham said it was a privilege to be around the hard-working staff at the hospital.

“I’m so impressed by how much they really put their hearts into it.

“I was shocked when I first heard one of the vet nurses talking to one of the penguins in a baby voice. You wouldn’t think a professional would do that but they become attached to them.”

She was not immune to this feeling herself.

“There was a little tiny chick that was in an incubator on my first day of volunteering, and by the end of the month it was a normal-sized chick like the others. It had gained enough weight.

“You do get attached to them. You want them to get better,” Mrs Benham said.

“Most of my role involves cleaning out the cages and folding the towels. The staff pull the animals out to weigh them, give them any medicine they need, or fluids, and to feed them.

“But you get to be around the animals and it’s very exciting. You don’t often get the experience of being so close to these animals,” she said.

The wildlife hospital recently had an influx of 12 underweight penguin chicks, 11 of them from the Nugget Point area.

“Apparently the recent storms have caused a lot of silt to go into the ocean so the mother penguins can’t see as well, and can’t find food.”

Mrs Benham said during her time at the hospital she had also seen penguins come in with different kinds of injuries.

“It’s sad. I’ve seen the adult penguins have bites, missing some toes. So many things can bite those little guys.”

But it felt good to have contributed to the rehabilitation of the animals.

“It’s so amazing to be in a room with penguins.

“It’s a good feeling to know that an animal you’ve cleaned the cage for, or helped out in some small way, can now go back into the wild once it’s healed.”