By JOHN HALL
WHAT a difference a decade makes! Greg Irons was only 20 when he began working at Bonorong Wildlife Sanctuary. It was run-down and losing money.
But Greg had a passion for protecting native animals, so at 25 he took a long lease on the business.
Greg recently turned 30 and under his enthusiastic leadership, Bonorong is now thriving with 60,000 visitors a year – three times the volume when Greg became director of the wildlife sanctuary five years ago.
Suddenly Bonorong is on the tourism map – it’s a must-see, especially for visitors from overseas.
Now Bonorong, with its eagle-eye view over Brighton municipality, is about to open Tasmania’s first veterinary clinic for native animals. The clinic will be just one of a handful around Australia caring exclusively for wildlife.
The clinic will be housed within the sanctuary and be free for all wildlife consultations.
“Marsupials have pouches, of course, but they don’t carry credit cards. There’ll be no paying patients,” Greg said.
“There are so many injured and distressed animals, so there’ll be plenty of patients for the clinic.”
Initially one vet will be at the clinic, but Greg is planning for a second vet to join the practice so it can be open seven-days-a-week.
When I first met Greg five years ago, he told me: “We need a 24-hour statewide wildlife rescue program – that’s a major goal for me over the next few years.”
Without any government or corporate support, within two years Greg had established that rescue program, with 600 volunteers around the state now caring for injured and sick native animals. They did 5500 rescues last year.
This month Greg told me: “Establishing our own veterinary clinic at Bonorong is a new key development in protecting our wildlife.”
The clinic is expected to open around the end of 2014. Greg and his supporters have raised $180,000 – just $60,000 short of their goal. A $30,000 donation came from a cricketing mate.
Two costly equipment items have already been donated – an anaesthetic machine and a blood centrifuge. Bonorong staff will be trained to help the veterinary surgeon.
“We already have a vet ready to kick-start the clinic,” Greg said.
“He’s from Singapore and he first visited Bonorong 18 months ago. When he first heard of my plan for the clinic he was keen to move to Tasmania and take up the veterinary position.
“He has an appreciation of Tasmania’s environment and a passion to learn more about Australia’s wildlife.”
Greg said he believed Bonorong would keep growing as a destination for tourists and this would help fund the clinic long-term.
Bonorong encompasses 8ha of hillside and Greg recently bought a neighbouring 17ha property to extend the rehab program for injured animals, especially kangaroos and wallabies.
The wildlife sanctuary houses 19 disease-free Tassie devils inside a 1km closure. Greg said that with the recent land purchase he could increase Bonorong’s capacity to care for more of this endangered species.