Finding an injured wallaby lying on a track one night before tracking it through a pine forest to catch it so its injuries could be treated was what opened Michael Sari's eyes to the plight of our wildlife.
Mr Sari told The Courier the incident in Creswick Forest opened his eyes to the "need for people to help these voiceless souls".
"I couldn't let him suffer by himself to meet his slow demise," he explained.
After the incident he began thinking about the number of animals that would be injured but not assisted each day and wanted to do something meaningful to help.
"I sought out rescue training to learn more about techniques, animal behaviours, and resources for rescuers," he said. "I've been 'on-call' ever since, having helped hundreds over the years."
For the last eight years the Creswick resident has volunteered his time to respond to calls to assist wildlife 24 hours a day, seven days a week.
The only full-time rescuer in the area, he responds to between 10 and 20 calls for assistance across a massive area each week - from north Ballarat to Talbot, across to Daylesford and Beaufort.
Driven by compassion and empathy to help those without a voice, the former member of the army also has specialist skills that assist him in tracking down injured animals, including sharp directional hearing and agility.
Other beneficial skills for rescuers are a level of fitness, good eyes and ears, reliability, dedication and resilience.
He rescues an array of animals - from birds to echidnas, lizards, wallabies and kangaroos.
"It's mainly injured or orphaned animals but it can also be displaced animals," he said, such as blue tongue lizards which sometimes find themselves in residential backyards.
Many calls are for wildlife victims of road trauma - in this case he always checks the pouch for a joey - while others include injuries resulting from cat or dog attacks, disease or due to becoming caught in infrastructure. Occasionally he will rescue an animal from a mineshaft.
After completing the rescue, he transports the animal to a qualified carer.
"I do it because I recognise that our wildlife is grossly underrepresented in terms of help for them, and they frequently need it," Mr Sari said. "The primary reason why I do it is because I can't stand animal suffering and so I've put myself in a position to be able to be a first responder for them."
The wildlife rescuer and transporter also plays the role of advocate and educates about "our precious wildlife".
He campaigns for wildlife-friendly infrastructure and tries to dispel myths, such as kangaroos being overpopulated and that they, therefore, need to be culled, as well as how vulnerable wildlife is near roads at dawn and dusk.
Through his role he has learnt a lot about the difficulties they face due to rapid urbanisation, in addition to how they are affected by weather patterns.
With a shortage of rescuers across the region, he said more people were needed to fill the "black spots".
"We're in desperate need of wildlife rescuers," he said. "We always need more trained people to be there for them. Not everything can be saved but everything can be helped."
Explaining it was not all interacting with cuddly, furry animals and that it could be confronting, he focuses on assisting the animal in need.
"It is very confronting work and you can see some horrific injuries but the reason why we're called in the first place is because there's something wrong.
"You have to be prepared to encounter some horrific sights but there are always other people around to help."
Whether it is a "good result" or not, he said it was about attending to an animal in need and preventing it from suffering.
"It's the most rewarding thing I've ever done."
Training for Ballarat locals
The Ballarat Wildlife Rescuer and Carer Collective recently received a City of Ballarat grant to subsidise a course in a bid to train more locals to become wildlife rescuers and transporters.
To be undertaken by Wildlife Victoria, the one-day course will cover rescue techniques for common species in the region and possible scenarios, as well as information about how to safely transport animals from location to location.
It will also provide an opportunity to meet and learn from experienced wildlife rescuers and carers operating in the region, including an opportunity to gather contacts for those who specialise in different species.
"There are senior rescuers in Ballarat who are happy to mentor and that's what we're trying to encourage because it does take a while to learn and to feel confident," rescuer and carer Jessica Robertson said.
It is hoped 45 people will participate in the training next weekend, to boost the wildlife rescue capacity in Ballarat - from attending kangaroo rescues in central Ballarat to hit and runs around Lake Wendouree to koala rescues around Gong Gong and Black Hill and microbat rescues around Buninyong.
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It is the responsibility of the rescuer to know how to contain and keep an injured animal safe until it is in the hands of a carer or vet with the knowledge to treat them.
"Wildlife rescuers come in all shapes and forms. They could be people like me - professionals - or they could be retired, young people who want to learn more about wildlife.
"Really, it's open to anyone and everyone who is interested in helping wildlife."
Ms Robertson said she undertakes rescue and caring as "without us wildlife would be on their own.
"In terms of who rescues and cares for wildlife, we are all volunteers and don't have a central body to look after us but the network of volunteers is really strong."
After the training, a participant will be registered with Wildlife Victoria to start receiving calls. There is no allocated time commitment to be a rescuer and when making yourself available you can choose whether or not to attend a call based on availability.
Head of wildlife volunteering at Wildlife Victoria, Dana Frew, said the organisation had the largest database of rescuers and carers for native wildlife in Victoria but that it was always looking for more volunteers so there was plenty of support across the state.
Its training sessions were paused last year due to COVID so is hoping to expand its number of volunteers this year so more animals can be rescued.
Wildlife Victoria is like 000 for wildlifeHead of wildlife volunteering at Wildlife Victoria, Dana Frew
"Wildlife Victoria is like 000 for wildlife," Ms Frew said. "It is all about animal welfare and ensuring animals can be rescued in the fastest possible way as we can get to them."
This will be the first training session conducted in Ballarat "for quite a long time".
The training on the day will be "quite comprehensive", with participants also to be given a basic rescue kit.
With the course being subsidised by the City of Ballarat, participation will only cost $40.
Those interested are encouraged to register as soon as possible. The course will be hosted at Ballarat Wildlife Park on Saturday, April 24 from 9.30am until 4.30pm.
Places are limited to City of Ballarat residents. To register, visit www.wildlifevictoria.org.au/rescue-and-transport-training-registration