WReNNZ (Wildlife Rehabilitators Network of New Zealand) is New Zealand's leading national wildlife network focused on best practice wildlife rehabilitation and many of WReNNZ members run wildlife rehabilitation centres. We profile members to encourage increased community support for wildlife, WReNNZ and the wildlife work of our members. If you have an ongoing interest in wildlife we encourage you to get involved. If you want to help wildlife please support WReNNZ and Kaikoura Wildlife Rescue.
Q&A with Sabrina Luecht, Wildlife Biologist & Founder, Kaikoura Wildlife Rescue
What prompted your interest in wildlife?
Ever since I was young, I have had an immense and ingrained passion for animals. My mother was also a significant influence on my sister and I, for we always rescued animals (great and small), generally housing about 30 at a time. After immigrating to New Zealand from Germany, we continued to help many animals in need (domestic and wild), and my passion for wildlife grew exponentially.
People often ask me why I love birds so much. There is no real explanation I can come up with, I just do! Moving to New Zealand probably had something to do with it… being ‘the land of birds’. As a teenager I regularly volunteered for the SPCA and Department of Conservation (DOC). I had longed to become a veterinarian, but realised the reality of specialising in wildlife was low (this was long before wildlife hospitals existed in New Zealand). In the end my mother, sister and I all studied biology.
I decided to study Zoology at the University of Canterbury, ensuring I could work as a researcher in the field, working directly with wildlife and making a difference. Over the years I have pursued many conservation directions - in New Zealand and internationally - specialising as a research assistant, in legislative roles, captive breeding endangered species, support officer, project coordinator, digital marketing and so forth. I have worked for universities, government departments, NGOs, non-profits, and charities.
When did you start rehabilitating wildlife and where are you based?
I had rehabilitated many domestic and exotic species over the years. However I began rehabilitating endemic species in 2014, based in Hokitika on the South Island’s west coast. As a former Department of Conservation (DOC) staff member at the West Coast Conservancy office, I had an excellent working relationship with biodiversity rangers, as well as with West Coast Vets. At the time I did not advertise my rehabilitation service to the general public, choosing to work exclusively with DOC and the local vet clinic.
Upon relocating to Kaikoura in 2017, I opened Kaikoura Wildlife Rescue, which I solely manage and fund at this point in time. The past season saw a huge influx in patients, particularly seabirds - such as blue penguins, yellow-eyed penguins, shags, gulls, petrels and shearwaters.
How many animals have you helped and how many are you caring for now?
I have helped hundreds of native birds in recent years and this number is certainly set to rise into the thousands as time goes on. At the moment I only have one patient in care - as it’s the non-breeding season with fewer patients. The winter months are a welcome reprieve to catch up on admin and many other tasks, for which there isn’t the time in the busy summer season.
Do you have a favourite species to care for? If yes, why?
No, I have a great love for all native birds. Seabirds have always tickled my fancy, as I have worked with many different species over the years (largely in the tropics). If Kaikoura weren’t so remote or I was based in a city, I would likely specialise in coastal and seabirds, and transfer other species (passerines, raptors, waterfowl etc) to the nearest wildlife hospital. This would be a more efficient and sustainable long-term approach in terms of time, resources and specialist skills.
In your view what are the hardest things and the best things about wildlife rehabilitation?
The hardest things are the injuries and deaths one often deals with. Many patients arrive in rehab due to human induced injuries (e.g. vehicle strike, window strike, boat strike, dog attack, plastic pollutants etc), rather than natural injuries (e.g. natural predator - such as a penguin with an abdominal bite wound from a barracuda).
You do your very best for every patient, but some cannot be saved despite treatment and countless hours, which is always saddening. The best aspects of wildlife rehabilitation are saving native birds, giving them a helping hand and seeing them eventually recover. Releasing birds back into the wild makes it all worthwhile. Those are the warm fuzzy moments that make your heart sing.
How long have you been a member of WReNNZ and what prompted you to join?
I have been a WReNNZ member since 2017 and a Committee Member since 2018. I had known of WReNNZ for some years, as I once held a tour for members whilst I was Senior Wildlife Keeper at The Isaac Conservation and Wildlife Trust. I was prompted to join upon opening Kaikoura Wildlife Rescue.
What do you enjoy most about being a member?
Sharing knowledge and networking with other rehabilitators. We all share the same passion and seek to make a difference for our wildlife, despite being extremely busy and often juggling jobs at the same time.
Why would you encourage other people interested in wildlife and wildlife rehabilitation to join WReNNZ?
To connect with like minded people, learn new skills, share knowledge, network, and support other rehabbers.
If people reading this would like to support you how can they help?
Kaikoura Wildlife Rescue is always in need of donations (being self-funded on a part-time income is difficult) to help cover extensive running costs, as well as equipment (dietary, housing, cleaning, medical, etc). You can also connect with us and stay in touch with our work on Facebook and Instagram.