Rescuing large animals can be a risky exercise for all involved. Denzil O’Brien reports on the first large-animal rescue conference in the southern hemisphere, with hopes that a coordinating organisation could be established to develop national competency-based training resources for rescue services around Australia and New Zealand.
Large animal rescue (LAR) has a growing profile around the world, as images of the impact of large-scale disasters on animals as well as humans are transmitted via television and social media.
In a first for the southern hemisphere, an international conference focusing on LAR attracted a star cast of speakers and delegates last weekend at the Roseworthy campus of the University of Adelaide, in South Australia.
The two-day conference was organised and hosted by Horse SA, an organisation devoted to providing a voice for horse owners and organisations, and was held at the new veterinary hospital on the Roseworthy campus.
Conference attendees and speakers were given a guided tour of this state-of-the-art equine care centre by veterinary surgeon Dr Erik Noschka.
Four major topics were covered at the conference:
- Rescue, as undertaken by emergency services;
- Transport, involving road crashes, livestock transport loading and unloading;
- Disasters, natural or man-made; and
- Events, focusing on incidents involving animal injury or death in the public arena.
Speakers came from around the world as well as from around Australia: Jim Green from Britain’s Hampshire Fire and Rescue; Major Dr Rebecca Giminez, from the United States, a technical expert on large animal rescue; Dr Ian Dacre, from Thailand, who is with the World Society for the Protection of Animals; Professor Chris Riley and Hayley Squance from New Zealand’s Massey University; Professor Josh Slater (via Skype) from Britain’s Royal Veterinary College; and Dr Arvind Sharma, from Himal Pradesh Agricultural University, in northwest India.
Dr Sharma was unanimously awarded the prize for the speaker who came from furthest away. So remote is the district in which he works, he had to take a 12-hour bus trip before he could even get on a plane.
Emergency, fire and rescue services were well represented at the conference, with people from New South Wales, Victoria, Tasmania, Queensland, and South Australia.
Notable among fire personnel and rescue experts was Anthony Hatch (known universally as Hatchy), from Fire and Rescue New South Wales. Hatchy has world-wide experience in delivering training to all services and professionals involved in large animal rescue, and received a Churchill Fellowship in 2009, to conduct research and gather information from experts in Britain and the US.
Those experts, Jim Green and Rebecca Giminez, were key speakers at this conference, as was Hatchy.
From a wide variety of presentations, a single message emerged: a large animal in an emergency situation presents particular challenges to rescuers.
The animal may injure itself further during a rescue carried out by people with good intentions but no specialist skills, and the rescuers put themselves at great risk, often without realising it.
However, these challenges can be met with appropriate skills, the right emergency services response, and the right equipment.
Some videos were on a lighter note: one showed a horse being winched out of a deep creek bed, totally relaxed in the sling, and grabbing mouthfuls of foliage from the creek bank as it rose slowly up out of the trench.
As Jim Green describes it, a large animal is an unpredictable HAZMAT (hazardous material) for an untrained crew. To a trained crew, it’s a predictably unpredictable HAZMAT. Many of the presentations over the two days showed situations in which a variety of large animals needed rescuing.
Many of the situations in which expert help was not sought, or perhaps not available, did not end well for the animals. Some videos were on a lighter note: one showed a horse being winched out of a deep creek bed, totally relaxed in the sling, and grabbing mouthfuls of foliage from the creek bank as it rose slowly up out of the trench.
So, with the right training and the right equipment, large animal rescue can have a happy ending.
There were demonstrations of the use of rescue glides for extricating a recumbent horse (modelled well by Riley the 400kg mannequin horse) and even a demonstration of how easily a recumbent horse can be winched on to a bow-loading boat. This specialist boat came all the way from New South Wales for this conference, and proved a big hit.
A crane demonstrated how a horse can be lifted with a sling (again, Riley obliged), and Hatchy’s group showed a prototype of a quick-release fastening which ensures that the animal is appropriately released once its feet are on the ground again.
By the end of the two days, conference delegates had agreed that there was a golden opportunity to establish a peak coordinating organisation to develop national competency-based training resources for emergency and rescue services around Australia and New Zealand.
All agreed that the conference had been an outstanding success, with a great range of speakers making relevant and interesting presentations.