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Veterinary nurse Annemieke Kregting has been caring for the Coromandel’s wild birds since 2005. Photo SUPPLIED

Heartache and relief as Kūaotunu Bird Rescue ceases operation

For more than fifteen years, Annemieke Kregting has rescued wild birds from all over the Coromandel peninsula, nursing them back to health on her property in Kūaotunu. Now, she’s closing her doors.

The Kūaotunu Bird Rescue Trust began shortly after Annemieke and her family moved to the Coromandel in 2005. A sick duckling was brought to her door and Annemieke, a veterinary nurse originally from Holland, was happy to help. 

It grew quickly from there – these days, the trust sees around 500 birds a year. 

“We’ve been working for 15 years from a Skylight garage that has been made into three rooms. And it’s a pretty good clinic, if you could house the patients somewhere else,” Annemieke said. 

Since the cyclone however, space has been tight. Patients have been stacked in plastic tubs along the clinic wall with clipboards tucked in between. It’s been tricky keeping track of who is who. 

“It requires a certain triage system to go through it all, and we can see that in the future this is just going to escalate.”

Annemieke said the long hours, lack of space and privacy were taking their toll on her and her family, and at 65 years old she felt the time was right to step back. 

“I’ve devoted all my working life to this,” Annemieke said. “When we moved to the Coromandel I wasn’t planning this at all. I just wanted to be involved in school, around the vege garden, that sort of thing. This just happened because people just turned up with birds. And it went from a few cages in the garden to a complete eight hour day, running a clinic.”

The lack of privacy has also been a major concern. The clinic is on Annemieke’s quarter-acre section, and each rescued bird means another two, three or four people trooping to her door.  

“They all want to see what’s happening to this poor penguin that they’ve brought in,” she said. And while she sympathises, it’s a lot for her family to handle. With over 140 birds brought to the clinic so far this year, Annemieke estimates she’s also had upwards of 400 people through her gates. 

“It’s a much bigger job than we initially started out with. You can have all the help you need but you need to have the space,” she said.

Still, the decision to close was not an easy one. Annemieke worried about turning birds away, and the impact the trust’s closure would have on the peninsula’s wildlife. 

“We’re the only centre in the Coromandel and it worries me,” she said. “There’s nowhere else to go other than to take the bird to the vet.”

It was not a great solution, Annemieke said. Because of the sheer volume of birds and lack of specialist avian knowledge, she said vet clinics were more likely to choose euthanasia over prolonged treatment. 

“In a way I’m ok with that because at least I know the animal isn’t suffering any more, rather than leaving them out on the beach, in the fields, on the roadside,” she said. 

Her ideal scenario though, is that someone will step up and open their own rehabilitation centre. 

“In the future I’m hoping like hell somebody can start something new,” she said. “I wouldn’t have a clue who that would be at this stage. An ex-vet or retired vet nurse would be ideal.”

But, she said, there were a lot of challenges involved with establishing such a service. 

“You’ve got to have money, support from the community, constant fundraising – you’ve got to have a team of people behind you,” Annemieke said. 

“This job can be learned, of course it can be learned and if anyone was willing to set something up I’ll be behind them in support. We’ll just have to wait and see if someone is willing to take that on. They need support, money and a lot of time. It’s not easy.”

For now though, Annemieke is looking forward to taking a break and spending some time with her family. 

“I’ve had to say no to so many things – parties, events – because I can’t get away from here. You can imagine what a relief that will be to be able to say I can lock the door and walk away,” she said.

“[It] gives me a little bit of heartache to be honest, but it had to happen,” she said. “It just came to a point where I thought if I don’t do it now, I’ll be completely run down and a wreck by the time I have to make the decision.” 

The Kūaotunu Bird Rescue Trust closes its doors in March. 

By ALICE PARMINTER, Public journalism funded by NZ on Air