Shepparton’s homegrown wildlife rescuer

By Monique Preston

There are not many people who can say they have woken up to a baby wallaby weeing on their head because it wants attention.

But it is just one of the memories former Shepparton woman Lisa Palma has of her work as a wildlife carer.

Ms Palma decided to take up volunteer work as a wildlife rescuer about eight years ago and has since progressed to become a wildlife carer and offered up her home and surrounds as a wildlife shelter.

Over the years she said she has cared for “hundreds and hundreds and hundreds” of animals in need of help.

Her first animal was a brushtail possum joey, and since then she has looked after countless animals and birds including kangaroos, wallabies, wombats, possums and lizards.

She has also helped out many grey-headed flying foxes – which are a threatened species – and currently has 18 in her care.

It is a role she relishes after having spent much of her adult life working in a high-powered role as a senior executive in financial services.

She had a revelation a few years ago, where she wondered whether, at her funeral, people would say, “Lisa had a big career at the bank or she made a difference to the world”.

It was then that she decided she wanted to be a volunteer in some form.

Initially she tried the CFA but was living too far from home. Then a friend suggested she do something that helped animals. And she has not looked back since.

“I’m going to die happy and satisfied because I’ve saved hundreds of lives,” Ms Palma said.

When she first started volunteering as a wildlife rescuer, Ms Palma was still working at the bank, but it didn’t stop her sometimes turning up to the office with kangaroo joeys in a pouch if they needed to be fed throughout the day.

A horrific heatwave in 2014 led Ms Palma to becoming a wildlife carer and starting Aurora Wildlife Shelter at her property at Donvale on the outskirts on Melbourne.

“I was doing rescues from 5 am until 4 am the next day (in the heatwave).

“It was a full-scale wildlife rescue.”

As a rescuer, however, she could not look after the animals long-term and had to take them to wildlife shelters. It was then she discovered there were not enough shelters.

These days Ms Palma rehabilitates more than 200 animals and birds each year – with most coming into her care in spring and summer.

The aim is to release the animals back into the wild as soon as they are well again, but sometimes this can take up to 10 months at the shelter.

Her funniest story about animals in her care was the night she woke at 3.30 am to wallaby joey named Enid standing above her bedhead and weeing on her head.

“They are nocturnal so she was disgruntled I wasn’t playing,” she said.

Ms Palma was born in Shepparton and did her schooling at St Georges Rd Primary School and Shepparton High School.

Despite many years having passed since she lived in the Goulburn Valley, Ms Palma has never forgotten her roots.

“Throughout my career and life, I always believe you never forget where you came from,” Ms Palma.

“My key message to people in Shepparton is to follow your dreams. Don’t accept the status quo.

“If you told me when I was a girl I would have done the things I’ve done, travelled and would be where I am, I never would have believed you.”

While she has no stand-out memories of being around wildlife when she was young – although she always loved animals and had dogs as pets – Ms Palma recently found a story she wrote in Year 7 about three dingo pups whose parents had died and they had to survive in the wild, as well as finding wildlife children’s books she used to love as a child.

When Ms Palma took a voluntary redundancy from her high-powered job, she threw herself into her volunteer work with the wildlife shelter, something she plans to do full-time for 12 to 18 months.

“I’ve never worked harder in my life,” Ms Palma said.

“It’s not a nine-to-five job.”

“It’s a passion, not a choice,” Ms Palma said of her work with animals.

“We have an obligation as humans to do something for those who can’t.”

Ms Palma said her role was “incredibly rewarding” in contrast to her corporate career.

“I’m part of a community that are incredibly caring, passionate and selfless. It’s incredibly rewarding mixing with a community like that,” she said.

With more than one billion animals lost in the recent Australian bushfires, Ms Palma would like to see more done to help animals in emergency situations like these.

She wants wildlife rescue volunteers, whether they be veterinarians, carers or shelters, to be among the first responders in emergency situations.

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