To become a foster carer you must find an authorized shelter operator in your area who is willing to take you under his/her wing and sign you up as a foster carer. The Department of Sustainability and Environment (DSE) will give you the contacts for shelters in your area. You should take the time to visit several shelters and spend time talking and asking questions. Authorized shelters are able to sign up a maximum of 3 foster carers, it is possible some of the people you contact may already have 3 carers but will be willing to have you visit to ask questions and learn. Under the guidance of your authorizing shelter you will gradually learn how to assess and care for the many species of wildlife that come into care. It is advisable that you attend as many workshops and training sessions as possible and read as many good publications as can be found. Be wary of many information sites on the internet, much information regarding wildlife in care is very bad. Spend as much time as possible talking to other carers and shelter operators. Most important DON’T RUSH INTO SIGNING UP AS A CARER.

To become a foster carer it is first necessary to consider a few things :


2. Do you have the time? Caring for wildlife can be, and mostly is, a full time job covering the 24hrs in every day although as a foster carer you can sometimes work around such details with the shelter you are working under.

3. Do you have the money? Caring for wildlife is very expensive.

4. Do you have children? Consider the above if you have children, also consider the time required to care for your children. Most important to consider is that many wildlife species stress very easily, the everyday sounds and actions of children can cause extreme stress and sometimes eventual death to wildlife. Animals in care are NOT pets.

5. Do you have the right emotional focus? Wildlife that arrives for care is often injured. In many instances the injury will mean the animal will have to be euthanased. Just because the injury can be repaired in a domestic animal it doesn’t necessarily follow the same treatment can be offered to wildlife.

6. Can you release an animal you have spent many hours caring for or do you want an animal you can pet, cuddle, take visiting and have sitting on your shoulder? If the answer is yes, then caring for wildlife is not for you. Consider a domestic animal.


Under the Code of Practice for the Welfare of Wildlife During Rehabilitation all wildlife arriving for care must be able to be released in a condition that will ensure its survival back in the wild. This means fully intact both physically and mentally. It also means you must be prepared emotionally to allow that release and freedom.

Wildlife does not ‘adapt’ to a life in the wild with body parts missing or not functioning correctly, instead it becomes an easy meal for predators.

Wildlife rehabilitation is defined as caring for injured, sick or orphaned native animals and providing veterinary assessment and treatment where required, then nursing care and support with the goal of restoring them to their natural condition and habitat. It is illegal to be in possession of native wildlife without an appropriate permit or licence.

In Victoria people interested in caring for native wildlife may apply for a permit to become a foster carer under the provisions of the Wildlife Act 1975. The new carer gains experience under the supervision of an experienced, authorized, wildlife shelter operator. During this time the foster carer will be trained in assessment, care and rehabilitation to wildlife. Carers are encouraged to attend training courses.
[please note – a new system currently being formatted will make it essential that carers attend courses].

It is important to realize animals brought into wildlife shelters are wild animals. The prime consideration must always be welfare of the animal both short and long term. In cases where it is unlikely that an animal will recover sufficiently to return to the wild then that animal must be euthanased. This may seem cruel but wild animals must be 100% fit to survive in the wild; any less will almost certainly result in a long and painful death.

Many people ask if ‘unreleasable’ animals can be kept as pets. The answer to this is definitely NO. These are wild animals and life in captivity is simply not an option. It is very important that animals in care are treated as wild animals at all times. Any behavior learned in captivity will compromise the future of the animal in the wild. This includes becoming used to dogs, cats and children. Animals will have a much better chance of survival if they retain their wild nature and instinctive fear of humans and their pets.

You will need to provide your own facilities at your own property, eg cages and outdoor enclosures. You must be aware of your responsibilities and have a full understanding of release procedures, including where to release.

You will need to develop a good working relationship with your vet on the special needs of rehabilitating wild animals for release and be aware you are working solely on a volunteer basis, all costs are your responsibility.

These costs include –

  • Heat sources for animals in care – running 24hrs per day often for many months and in multiple numbers.
  • A huge variety of food, much is specialty food and very expensive, eg. milk powders and live food purchased from breeders [mice, beetles, etc].
  • Washing products, including sterilizing solutions for equipment and bedding.
  • Fuel and telephone expenses.
  • Wire, timber, etc for construction of pens and aviaries.
  • Medications and dressings as well as other veterinary expenses, eg x-rays



To be a good foster carer you need common sense – often rare these days; a knowledge of your animals’ social behaviour, natural diet and habitat. Do not treat your bird/animal the same way a captive animal/bird of the same species is treated, requirements including food are vastly different for an animal being raised for release.

You also need to be prepared to ask questions regardless of how silly the questions might appear to you, if you need to ask something then it is not silly!

Caring for injured, orphaned and sick wildlife is time consuming, expensive and, at times, emotionally draining for all members of the family. The caring is also usually the easiest part, releasing your animal into an unfamiliar and alien environment is the most difficult time, if you haven’t taken the right steps then you are more than likely sending it to its death.

Can you give the correct response to the following questions?

1. Was there an option to return the orphan to its parents, if so, did you try?

2. Do you know what your animal would be doing at the same stage of development as a mother reared animal or do you retard development to suit your needs?

3. Are your pouched mammals emerging at the appropriate age or still squeezing into an outgrown pouch?

4. Are your animals experiencing outside, cutting laps in the sun, climbing branches at night or are they still inside on the sofa watching tele. with the dog?

5. Is your baby bird still begging for food while the wild babies are gathering their own?

6. Do your animals, especially birds, recognize wild food and can they catch it? This is vital for birds that catch live food in the air.

7. Do your animals know what a predator is? Will they only find out when in its mouth?

8. Do you feed arboreal animals [tree dwellers – possums, gliders, etc] on the ground? The ground is where the predators are – dogs, cats, foxes and humans.

9. Is your animal a healthy weight? Do you know what a healthy weight is?

10. Has your animal been housed in an enclosure which allows ample exercise and to experience all weather conditions? Or is it going to panic at the first drop of rain? And will you follow it around with an umbrella?

11. Do your animals recognize others of their own species or are they more familiar with domestic pets?

12. Do you check out release sites?

13. Do you do follow-ups on your animals’ releases, eg spotlighting for possums, up at the crack of dawn to check on birds, going back to release sites of kangaroos?

14. Are you being responsible and releasing your animal in its correct area? Think, is the animal from another area? Is it outside its gene pool? Is it being released into an area already overloaded? Are you relocating it away from a family group?

If you would like to talk to someone about becoming a foster carer then it is suggested you take the time to make phone calls and talk to several shelters in your area and ask to visit to talk to them. It is vital that you can get along with the person who will be instructing you in caring for wildlife.

Take the time to find out what healthy animals look like and ensure any person you consider working with has animals that are strong and healthy and are intact. also that their enclosures, cages, etc are suitable and safe.

Please contact me if you would like further information or simply to have a chat regarding taking on the mostly difficult but ultimately rewarding experience you may ever have.