HECTORSPRUIT – Whether it’s cleaning tar off a tortoise or nursing an injured buck back to health, Deidre Joubert is always up for the challenge.
Deidre officially started the Wild and Free Wildlife Rehabilitation Centre less than two years ago, but has been helping animals from a young age. She grew up on a farm and hoped to be a veterinarian one day, but later got interested in wildlife rehabilitation. She learned of Free Me, a wildlife rehab centre in Johanessburg, and became a volunteer.
Upon visiting her parents in Marloth Park a few years later, she came across animals needing help and found that there are no rehab centres nearby.
She convinced her husband to move to Marloth Park and started the process of opening Wild and Free. After obtaining all the necessary permits from, among others, the Mpumalanga Tourism and Parks Agency, she needed to find the perfect premises.
Willie Joubert, who is also involved in nature conservation, granted her a 10 hectare piece of land next to the Crocodile River. Since the rehab centre should not be accessible to the general public, this piece of property amid a maze of sugar cane and fruit trees was the perfect fit.
The non-profit organisation had to be fully sustainable and they established their own vegetable garden, rat and worm farms and will soon be keeping chickens as well.
They renovated an existing structure on the property and this currently houses Deidre’s kitchen and clinic. The enclosures are enriched to resemble the animal’s habitat as closely as possible and Deidre believes they should be outside in the sun whenever possible. The large lawn also enables the animals to run outside and volunteers to correctly monitor their progress.
Wild and Free is solely reliant on donations and Deidre is very grateful to her supporters, which include the Mjejane Game Reserve and her husband, Arno.
The centre helps animals, big and small – from mongoose and owls to crocodiles and large predatory birds.
Deidre is very strict regarding rescue, rehabilitation and release and says she does not want a zoo at the centre. She stressed the importance of releasing the animals back into their natural habitat, unless it poses a danger to them or nearby humans.
Deidre urged Onderbergers to think twice before “rescuing” a wild animal.
“Many people see a baby animal alone and think it’s been abandoned or want to intervene in the natural course of life.” Deidre explained that people should leave the animal alone unless it looks like it is in immediate danger. They should keep an eye on it for several hours before calling authorities or taking it into their care. “The mother will often come back after a while for the baby and human interference is unneeded,” Deidre stressed.
She said the animals that come into her care were often improperly raised, either as pets or by people who wanted to “save” them.
Each animal has specific dietary requirements and it’s quite a science to determine what the animal needs to recover. Improper care can lead to health complications or even death.
Deidre has several volunteers who donate their time to help her with rescues and she says their help is crucial. “Volunteers are trained in-house to help me when there is a large influx of animals and I always welcome more people willing to assist the centre,” she said.
She currently only has a few animals and says it is quieter during winter. During this period they do upgrades and fix up their facilities in preparation of the busy seasons during spring and summer.
Wild and Free will be hosting two internationally recognised courses at their premises between June 9 and 11. Experts from the International Wildlife Rehab Council will present a basic wildlife rehab course and an advanced pain and wound course. Anyone interested in attending can contact Deidre at [email protected] or 079-988-5748 for prices and bookings.
For more information, visit Wild and Free’s Facebook page.