Crit­ter en­counter


‘‘Now, they all want to be vets!’’

That was how Ce­cily Hoskins, a teacher at Aokautere School, called it after her class had vis­ited Massey’s Wild­base an­i­mal hospi­tal.

The year five and six group joined by par­ents and teach­ers, squeezed into the small ded­i­cated vet­eri­nary unit last week as a re­ward for rais­ing $500 to help with Wild­base run­ning costs, and for be­ing part of its school spon­sor­ship pro­gramme.

The money was raised dur­ing a school walkathon, with many of the chil­dren dress­ing as an­i­mals.

Su­per­vis­ing wildlife tech­ni­cian Pauline Ni­j­man, had kept the chil­dren in touch with what was go­ing on at Wild­base with weekly email up­dates that in­cluded X-ray pho­tos of the an­i­mals be­ing treated.

‘‘They re­ally fol­low the cases quite closely,’’ Ni­j­man said.

‘‘Be­ing in the pro­gramme gives them own­er­ship.’’

For the chil­dren, the visit to the surgery and re­cu­per­a­tion cen­tre was an exercise in vo­cal re­straint, as they were in­tro­duced to a kiwi with a bro­ken beak. They were asked to be as quiet as they could so as not to spook the bird, or up­set Eric, an­other re­cu­per­at­ing kiwi kept se­cluded in the same room.

To re­pair the bro­ken bill, the vets were try­ing a tech­nique used to re­pair turtle shells, and were pleased with their suc­cess so far.

The chil­dren didn’t get to see the out­side of Eric, who was quite sick, but they did get to see some of his in­sides.

Eric’s surgery was to to re­move giz­zard stones that had caused an in­testi­nal ob­struc­tion.

Ni­j­man then passed around sam­ple jars con­tain­ing some of the stones re­moved from the bird’s stom­ach.

Next, they were in­tro­duced to a one-eyed and par­tially blind tu­atara with a pros­thetic on the end of its tail. The chil­dren knew that rep­tiles carry their fat in their tails, that tu­atara means ‘spiny back’, and lined up af­ter­wards to wash their hands be­cause rep­tiles can also har­bour sal­mo­nella on their skin.

For the vis­i­tors’ ben­e­fit, an in­jured hoiho or yel­low-eyed pen­guin was al­lowed a second break- fast, and made short work of it, swal­low­ing a whole salmon in one large sat­is­fied gulp.

Hoskins said the visit gave the chil­dren close en­coun­ters with an­i­mals they oth­er­wise wouldn’t get to see, and that it was a real priv­i­lege to be in­volved in the Wild­base pro­gramme.


Wild­base tech­ni­cian Jamie Park with tu­atara and Aokautere School kids.

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