Rescuing an orphaned joey, untangling a snake from bird netting, collecting baby birds blown out of nests, wombats flooded out of burrows and animals injured by unhappy collision with man - it's all in a day's work for locals, Kevin and Jane Baker.
“It's more fun than anyone ever said you could have in retirement” is how they see their work.
They are members of Wildcare and, as such, licensed to rescue, care for and return to the wild orphaned and injured native animals.
Wildcare is a volunteer wildlife rescue and rehabilitation organisation responsible under the NSW Department of Parks and Wildlife for the area between Braidwood and some distance west of Young, including the Yass Valley.
“You have no idea the strife animals get into when our world and theirs collide,” Jane said.
“We throw away a piece of string and a bird ends up losing a leg. We drop a drink can; a snake investigates and get stuck inside by its scales. Fishermen cut snagged lines and platypus entangle themselves and drown.”
All animals in care go through various stages of rehabilitation and preparation for release so at any one time a carer may have gape-mouthed fledglings demanding to be fed on the hour every hour, adult birds in cages recovering from injury and birds strengthening wings in aviaries preparatory to release
On the Baker's front verandah one aviary houses two brushtail possums in the last stage of preparation for release. Both came in as orphans - Morrie at 180 grams from a road-killed mother's pouch and Maggie as a back-baby of 400 grams, fallen down a chimney into a firebox.
The Bakers in their years with Wildcare have hosted a multitude of Australia's wildlife, including kangaroos, wallabies, wombats, blue tongue lizards, cockatoos and just about every kind of bird from a kingfisher to a cormorant. They have cared for tiny furless joeys and old animals seeing out their last days.
Do they remember any with special affection?
“Oh yes,” said Kevin. “Over summer we looked after a juvenile dollar bird. It had been hit by a car and suffered a broken wing. She was a beautiful creature, with a sturdy little body covered in iridescent green blue and olive feathers. Under her wings she had white marks like silver dollars - that's how dollar birds got their name.
“We called her Eck after the sound of her call and over the six months she endeared herself to us, landing on our fingers when she knew it was time to eat - up to a dozen crickets served on a pair of forceps waved over her head. Dollar birds are aerial feeders so you can't put food in bowls for them.”
“Unfortunately, Eck was a summer migrant from the Pacific Islands and did not recover in time to rejoin a flock on the journey home so now she is companion to a lonely male dollar bird in one of Australia's excellent state zoos.”
“For all that, I love each and every creature we have looked after,” Jane told the Tribune. “Nikki was special. She was a red-necked wallaby who came to us with just the first silver sheen of fur appearing. She moved like a streak of lightning and could leap from floor to couch to bookshelves then be back at your feet demanding to be scooped back into the apron pocket before you had time to draw breath.'
Asked whether they were ever tempted to keep one of these animals both laughed. “Of course you're tempted but that's only being selfish. They belong in their own world and we have the pleasure, for just a little while, of helping them get them to the point where they can take their place in that wild world.
“You feel a bit sad when they go but then you feel proud when you see just how happily they slip back into the wild.”
The Bakers said they could not do the work they do without the support of the wider Yass community.
They would like to thank Yass Veterinary Hospital for their willing help at any hour of the day or night; Hillbilly Bargains for stocking rats, mice, crickets, and meal worms in all sizes to meet the needs of various species in care; Chambers Cellars for the generous gift of wooden wine boxes for possum housing; and people all over the valley for bringing in to the Bakers or reporting to Wildcare the location of sick and injured creatures they have come across.
Wildcare's phone line, 6299 1966, operates 24-hours-a-day every day of the year. The Bakers urge people to report any wild creature in difficulty so that it can be rescued and, if necessary, cared for until recovery. Wildcare welcomes new members. Details are available on line at www.wildcare.com.au.