Lynleigh Greig welcomes new patients to her mobile medical clinic everyday, where they are treated for cuts, burns and breaks, but she never gets a thank you.
“We get scratched, bitten and mauled,” Greig tells The New Daily of treating animals that have been severely injured and displaced by the bushfire crisis in New South Wales.
“I guess if we were looking for appreciation and financial rewards, we’d be disappointed.”
What Greig does feel is despair and heartache. The 48-year-old is a volunteer on the front line of the wildlife devastation in the wake of this season’s disastrous bushfires.
She operates Sydney Wildlife Rescue’s Mobile Care Unit, a fully equipped veterinarian clinic-on-wheels that transports volunteers, including vets, to areas in NSW where they can treat injured wildlife in the field.
“Being in a mobile unit is very advantageous as we can be deployed to the areas experiencing the greatest need, rather than the animals having to be transported long distances,” says Greig, who hails from Zimbabwe, and moved to Australia in 1997 with husband Justin Greig, the Oceania Advisory Leader at Ernst & Young Australia.
Greig, an animal lover since her youth in Zimbabwe, where she caught snakes and reptiles, co-founded the clinic with fellow volunteer Joan Reid.
The pair met at Sydney Wildlife Rescue, a charity founded in 1997 that services the city’s metropolitan area and relies on donations.
Together, they raised $200,000 to buy a Jaycar motorhome, which they gutted and refitted as a mobile clinic. It took its maiden voyage on January 11.
“There are so many kangaroos with burnt feet and tails,” Greig said.
“We’ve also seen injured possums, red-bellied black snakes, echidnas, wombats and wallabies. The magnitude of this catastrophe is overwhelming.”
Indeed, more than an estimated 1 billion animals have perished in the fires, and continue to die, despite an end to the crisis. The NSW Rural Fire Service reported on February 14 that all fires are now contained following a week of heavy rain.
Further, some species are now under threat of extinction. A federal government report released on February 11, revealed 113 species of animals in Australia require urgent assistance.
The list, devised by a panel of experts, includes 19 mammals, 13 birds, 20 reptiles and frogs.
When The New Daily spoke to Greig on February 12, she and other volunteers were in the Snowy Mountain region of NSW, conducting search and rescue missions or “black walks”.
This involves trekking through razed and other affected areas in search of injured animals. When an animal is found, Greig sedates it with a tranquilliser dart “and the vet assesses if we can bring it to the triage section,” she said.
“But sometimes they can’t be saved.”
One of the main issues now for those animals that survived is starvation. To that end, the NSW government has instigated food drops – tonnes of carrots and sweet potatoes – in multiple regions.
“They’ve lost their habitat,” Greig said, who lives on Sydney’s Northern Beaches with Justin and their son Connor, 18, and daughter Kayleigh, 17.
“Some are dehydrated and emaciated and in need of oral fluids as well as parental fluid therapy.”
In other cases, the animals seek food in suburban areas, which poses more threats.
“They come across human-made obstacles, vehicles, domestic animals,” she said.
“There may be one billion animals that have died, but plenty more are dying every day.”
The emotional impact on rescuers is often overwhelming, says Greig: “On any given day, there are at least five moments that bring us to tears. Going out to save animals can often end up being nothing more than a mercy mission to mitigate suffering.”
Meanwhile, for those animals that have been rescued, the future remains uncertain.
“It’s going to take the environment so long to return to a state where they can re-enter their habitat,” Greig said.
“The ones we have in care, we can’t take them back to where they came from because there’s nothing for them to eat there. It’s going to be a long-term process.”
A time-frame she is committed to, whether her patients show gratitude or not.“Most of us find that the privilege of crossing paths with these wondrous creatures is the only thanks we need,” she said.“And that is what drives us to do this.”