A veterinarians passion for Koalas - Dr Claire Madden
For me, I always knew I would be working with animals, from a young child I always had a deep-seated affinity for wildlife. It didn’t take me long to develop a love for our incredible Australian native animals.
My journey to becoming a veterinarian.
Upon finishing high school I completed a Bachelor of Science majoring in wildlife biology. I then undertook an Honours research project looking at the reproductive status of the short-beaked echidna. This research was conducted in conjunction with The University of Queensland and the Currumbin Wildlife Sanctuary. Upon completion of my research year, I was employed by the Currumbin Wildlife Sanctuary as a koala keeper. From there the appreciation for Phascolarctos cinereus (aka our adorable koala) began.
I worked as a zoo keeper until my mid twenties when I had a burning desire to go back and study to further my capabilities for wildlife conservation. It was at this point that I applied for Vet school. During my Veterinary studies I immersed myself in the zoo and wildlife field utilising the contacts I had established as a zoo keeper. This was partially to learn as much about this topic which wasn’t heavily covered at vet school, but secondly because I felt so disconnected from the animals during the 5 years completing the Vet degree.
Since becoming a qualified veterinarian, I have been lucky to secure some incredible roles within the Zoo & Wildlife field. Each of which have enabled me to develop and grow my skill set and knowledge for Koalas. One thing that I learnt very quickly is that Koalas are very unique. Not just in their anatomy and physiology but they are unique in their individual response to treatments, their individual response to diseases and more challenging diagnostic tests as our day to day tests are not always validated for koalas. I have treated many koala cases to date for a whole range of clinical problems from trauma right through to cancer and I am yet to have two cases that have behaved the same.
Why are koalas so important?
Aside from the fact that they are so damn cute, they are pivotal to our ecosystems, they are an Australian icon and more importantly, no Australian animal should go extinct under our watch. With the recent bushfires we have experienced earlier this year, it has become evident more than ever that the koala is undoubtedly an Australian icon that is recognised around the world.
My experience of the 2019/20 bushfires?
Currently I am employed by Village Roadshow on the Gold Coast where I get to look after the expansive native collection at Paradise Country. They were gracious in sending myself and a nurse to Adelaide earlier in the year to undertake work assisting with the bushfire crisis. It was such an honour to share my Koala knowledge with local vets who otherwise had little to no Koala experience.
South Australia was hit really hard by the recent bushfires and to date when I think about my time in there, it still brings tears to my eyes. I felt like my lifetime goal to conserve and protect Koalas were all brought down in shatters before my eyes. From my childhood aspirations, to my wildlife biology degree right though to becoming a vet, all I ever set out to do was to contribute to wildlife conservation. Instead here I was standing in a massive hall with over 100 injured and dying koalas before my eyes. Previous roles have seen me dedicated tireless hours/weeks/months to release a single koala back out into the wild and yet here I was with over 100 koalas before me needing that exact care. It was an impossibility and a heart wrenching sight.
Onwards and upwards, what is in the past is in the past. We can only now look to the future and ensure it contains healthy Koala populations across the eastern coast of Australia and South Australia. I will not stop, and I know I am not alone in my dedication to the plight to conserve Koala populations
There is nothing more soothing then the smell of a mature male koala, nothing more impressive than a large koala bellow, and nothing quite like a big squishy koala cuddle.
FOR THE ANIMALS
Dr Claire Madden