Australia Zoo exodus: ‘Vet sacked during an operation’
A VETERINARIAN at Terri Irwin's Australia Zoo Wildlife Hospital was allegedly sacked mid-surgery last month, as staff turnover spirals and fears for animal safety increase.
Sources say 12 staff have left in the past six months, including the highly-regarded head vet Dr Claude Lacasse.
Vet Dr Jackie Reed was allegedly stopped while operating on a koala and told she was out of a job. It's understood the Wildlife Hospital employs 16 nursing staff and four vets at a time.
More than half of these have had to be replaced or the positions are still vacant, with the zoo advertising on its website.
The hospital is one of the projects operated by Australia Zoo Wildlife Warriors Ltd, a registered charity.
It is funded by donations and the Sunshine Coast Council contributes $50,000 a year as part of its draft Koala Conservation Plan.
All staff employed at the zoo are required to sign confidentiality contracts on employment and those concerned about what is happening there say they are afraid of speaking out for fear of being sued.
Australia Zoo declined to comment on the staffing situation, preferring instead to focus on the good work of the hospital.
But at least four sources, plus two carers who agreed to be quoted directly, have contacted the Daily and provided insight into the situation.
Wildlife carers Margaret Hewitt and Diane Meldrum revealed they no longer felt comfortable sending sick animals there.
In the past month, six nurses have left and Dr Lacasse, who had been employed at the zoo for seven years, quit two weeks ago.
"Ever since Australia Zoo got involved in the management of the hospital it has gone downhill. The management is terrible," one source said.
"People have contacted Terri (Irwin) with their problems and she just doesn't get back to them."
Concerns were being raised about the level of service at the once world-class hospital.
"The animals are being handled by inexperienced staff.
"There were two cases where inexperienced staff members broke the limbs on animals in their care.
"In another instance, a nurse injected an animal with an oral antibiotic."
A source told how Dr Reed was allegedly sacked in the middle of an operation in September.
"She was doing surgery on a koala when management came in and called her to the (termination) meeting," the source said.
"She asked if she could finish the surgery, but she was told that she had to pass it to someone else to complete."
Those who spoke up were moved on.
Dr Lacasse had apparently resigned as "she thought what they were doing was not good for the animals".
"They used to be the best team ever there. Dr Lacasse had the same team for two years, now they are all leaving," the source said.
"The management doesn't know how to run it as a hospital, but they are trying to run it like a zoo.''
Ms Hewitt was the first carer at the Wildlife Hospital but has also left.
"It seems management are departing from the whole idea Steve (Irwin) had," she said.
In response to questions about staffing, an Australia Zoo spokeswoman wrote the following:
"The Australia Zoo Wildlife Hospital is a not-for-profit organisation that has treated over 59,000 native Australian animals to date.
"We have a highly-skilled team who are committed to continuing the life-saving work at the hospital with over 50 years of combined veterinary experience.
"This expertise with the most up to date practises allows us to maintain the highest standard of animal care at the Australia Zoo Wildlife Hospital.
"Our world-class facility welcomes visitors and the public to witness firsthand the life-saving treatment of our native wildlife. The hospital also serves as a free community service, treating all sick and injured wildlife admitted regardless of cost.
"If you would like to find out more about the Australia Zoo Wildlife Hospital, visit: wildlifewarriors.org.au."