Success but no ORC funding

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As debate rages around the Otago Regional Council’s funding decision, advocates for the Dunedin Wildlife Hospital point to a simple, irrefutable fact – the hospital has saved more than 10% of the mainland yellow-eyed penguin population already this year.

At yesterday’s regional council meeting, there was no indication of funding for the wildlife hospital, although the draft long-term plan included recommendations to fund Predator Free Dunedin and the Yellow-eyed Penguin Trust.

Dunedin Wildlife Hospital Trust co-chairman Steve Walker said it was good to see those groups receiving funding, but “surely we are a fundamental support mechanism for both of these great initiatives”.

Wildlife vet Dr Lisa Argilla told The Star that the hospital had treated 69 yellow-eyed penguins, most injured by predators, and had achieved a 91% success rate. That meant 63 birds would be returned to the wild.

The mainland population of yellow-eyed penguins, from Otago Peninsula to the Catlins, stood at 500 to 520 birds, meaning the wildlife hospital had saved more than 10% of them.

Among those saved were 45 adults of breeding age, who could be returned to their mates.

“To me, that is a significant contribution,” Dr Argilla said.

The hospital had also cared for endangered species, such as the Haast tokoeka (southern brown kiwi), kea, kaka, harriers and a large number of kereru injured by flying into windows or being hit by cars.

“We can do the orthopaedic surgery our kereru patients need, which increases survival rates significantly,” she said.

At present, inpatients included six kereru, a yellow-eyed penguin, two kea and a couple of gulls.

The wildlife hospital worked closely with other wildlife organisations, including the Department of Conservation, Yellow-eyed Penguin Trust, Project Kereru, Orokonui Ecosanctuary and local vets, and was a vital link in the chain of conservation and in making progress towards a predator-free Dunedin, she said.

“We have the expertise to provide complex care for many different creatures, including endangered species,” Dr Argilla said.

“It’s a team effort.”

When the business case for the Dunedin Wildlife Hospital was being prepared, it was based on an estimated 350 patients over a 12-month period.

However, that had been “blown out of the water”, by 252 injured or sick animals coming in for treatment in the hospital’s first five months.

“In a region that has such a diversity of wildlife, this hospital has been well overdue for many years,” Dr Argilla said.

“We take a holistic view that every animal is important.”

Dr Argilla said the public response to the recommendation that the regional council not fund the Dunedin Wildlife Hospital showed that ratepayers did want their money to be used to support the facility.

More than 50 people have written to regional councillors, urging them to change their minds on funding the hospital.

“I believe they should do what their ratepayers want them to do,” she said.

Other large organisations, such as the Dunedin City Council, Otago Polytechnic and businesses, believed in the work of the hospital and supported it.

In its original submission to the regional council, the wildlife hospital trust had offered three different funding levels, ranging from $100,000 to $200,000 a year for five years.

Failing that, Mr Walker said the regional council could have “at least” matched the Dunedin City Council’s contribution of $50,000 a year for three years.

Dr Argilla said the wildlife hospital had tried on several occasions to get regional councillors to visit and take a look around, but this had not occurred.

“How can they make sweeping decisions like this when they haven’t come and seen the place?”