ONE OF the region's most well-known animal rescuers is calling for more compassion for native animals.
Manfred Zabinskas runs the Five Freedoms Animal Rescue in Trentham. He has been rescuing and rehabilitating wildlife for more than 30 years but in the last decade, he has been called out to an increasing number of disturbing instances of animal cruelty, in particular, purposeful shooting of kangaroos with a bow and arrow.
A couple of weeks ago Mr Zabinskas was called out to a rescue in Greenvale where a number of kangaroos had been targeted with arrows. Fletcher, as he has been named, was lucky and is recovering at the rescue but another kangaroo had to be euthanized due to the extent of her injuries. Her joey was rescued from the pouch, but sadly, also passed away.
"I'm hearing regular reports from local people that say they've found dead kangaroos with arrows in them in the national park, or people who have seen an attacked kangaroo. One of the big messages I want to get out there is for people to be vigilant and contact police if they see something," he said.
"It's frightening to think about the amount of kangaroos that have been injured in that way but we never hear about it or they have gone into the forest with an arrow in them or have been shot dead. It's horrific. We've had ones dying with joeys in their pouch or by their side so I have the agony of having those young that will perish if I don't catch them."
Fletch was lucky in that the arrow went through his tail but missed the spine. He is recovering so well that he will be taken home and released next week.
Mr Zabinskas speaks openly about the distress and trauma to both the kangaroos and rescuers alike due to these acts - from the days and weeks finding and darting the victims to help them, to the feelings of failure for those that are lost.
The stress has led to increased alcohol consumption and depression and he has not had a holiday in 23 years.
Kangaroos were the first species Mr Zabinskas started working with and are his favourite animal. He said they each have individual traits and personalities and the ability to feel emotion, form relationships with each other and even think strategically.
Wildlife rehabilitation, which Mr Zabinskas undertakes with his partner Helen Round, is all-consuming and involves round-the-clock care of all sorts of animals, call outs at all hours of the day and night and hours spent forming strategies for and undertaking difficult rescues down mine shafts and laying in wait for the perfect opportunity to dart a kangaroo to safely transport it for treatment.
Mr Zabinskas is one of the only people in the region who has a license to tranquillise animals to assist with capturing them for relocation or rehabilitation and it all comes at a cost.
He spends thousands of dollars a year on veterinary bills and rehabilitation costs and it all comes out of their own pockets, because there are few government subsidies.
Some days you feel like you just can't go on because it's too hard. It's relentless and you don't get to sleep but we haven't got enough people doing the rescue or rehabilitation. So if we were to stop that means animals won't get help and the thought of that is worse than the thought of going out to another rescue. So some days are tougher than others.- Manfred Zabinskas
They cannot do it all alone and rely on the help of volunteers to lend a hand with chores like making bottles and cleaning sheds and donations.
But what recharges Mr Zabinskas' batteries is waiting for the kangaroos he has released to come home each afternoon for a scratch on the chin and a handful of muesli.
"Every afternoon we sit at the bungalow and I can hear them coming home. They come up through the tracks in the forest for a scratch under their chin and come in and have dinner with us. They have muesli and the smaller ones get bottles of milk and then they go into their sheds and sleep on the hay. And by morning they're all back in the forest again," he said.
"Seeing them come home and grow and have their own babies is pretty spectacular. It charges our batteries and keeps us going and makes us realise there is a reason we are doing this."
Despite being a national symbol, kangaroos are facing a continuously difficult existence and seeing the way they are being treated is difficult for wildlife carers like Mr Zabinskas.
From conflicts with people who shoot kangaroos as they view them as pests to incidents of animal cruelty and the extension of the Victorian kangaroo pet food trial, it often feels like an uphill battle.
But the fight for animal welfare is gaining momentum, from banning puppy farms to the push to ban duck shooting, live export and jumps racing.
Recently, Victoria's first elected member of parliament from the Animal Justice Party, Andy Meddick, secured $500,000 of government funding through the state budget for Wildlife Victoria to expand its emergency hotline service to help wildlife in need.
The funding does not extend to animal rescue services, but it gives Mr Zabinskas hope to see an MP advocating for animal rights and that one day wildlife rescuers will receive more funding support for the work that they do for animal welfare and rehabilitation.
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