How you can help

How you can help

There are a number of ways you can safely administer food, water and shelter to wildlife that need help while ensuring you stay well-informed of the most suitable practices and guidelines.

Food, water and shelter

It is vital that any help provided does not jeopardise natural recovery and feeding is phased out as soon as natural recovery begins.

These guidelines are a summary of a coordinated effort from various state and national organisations including the Tasmanian Department of Primary Industries, Parks, Water and Environment (DPIPWE), NSW Department of Planning, Industry and Environment (DPIE), Department of Environment, Land, Water and Planning (DELWP) and Wildlife Health Australia (WHA) to provide information on caring for distressed native wildlife in an emergency, such as prolonged drought, or after fire or flood.

These guidelines were developed with input from ecologists, wildlife veterinarians, wildlife nutritionists and rehabilitators and will be updated as new information becomes available.

Prior to providing food for wildlife, take all necessary steps to minimise the risks outlined.

How you can help

  • Clean, disinfect,* dry containers thoroughly and refill water and food containers daily, to prevent spread of disease. *Disinfect containers in a dishwasher or by soaking in a solution of one cup of bleach added to four litres of water
  • Wash your hands before and after cleaning and drying food and water containers or handling food to reduce risk to you and the animals you are helping
  • Remove and dispose of uneaten food to prevent spread of disease and attracting unwanted pests
  • Only offer water and food if you are able to check, clean and replenish on a regular basis, preferably daily
  • Provide water and food in appropriate containers. Do not provide food or water directly to wildlife. Hand-feeding is a disease risk to both of you and increases the risk of animals eating or drinking in unnatural positions that may cause harm

Suitable food guide

Don't forget to check which foods are suitable for supplementary feeding of uninjured wild animals.

View the guide.

  • Ensure containers are shallow (reduce risk of drowning), robust (won’t collapse easily) and stable (so they don’t tip)
  • Place a stable rock, stick and/or rope in waterers to give safe access out of the water for a variety of smaller animals (from insects to mammals).  Deep and/or narrow containers increase risk of drowning
  • Place containers/dispensers in a cleared area with shade to allow more timid wildlife to watch out for predators and keep cool
  • Utilise tree hollows (whether they are naturally-occurring in nearby trees or man-made nest-boxes/cut-in hollows), approximately 300 species rely on tree hollows as a safe source of shelter (including birds, mammals, reptiles and more). Read more about Hollows as Homes
  • Provide water and feed containers/dispensers at a range of heights including at ground level (suitable for most mammals and reptiles) and elevated and hanging in trees (for animals such as possums, gliders and birds) so a range of native animals can use them. Encouraging arboreal animals to come to the ground makes them vulnerable to predation
  • Place water and feed away from public roads, buildings and in several small stations of low volume. A distance of 500m between water stations is recommended. When possible, regularly move locations of water and feed stations to reduce disease and predator risk
  • Keep cats, dogs and children away from the areas you are providing water, food or shelter. Cats quickly learn where wildlife are congregating and may stalk them
  • Feed as close to the natural diet as possible (see key government resources below for assistance)
  • Keep records of what you are doing – animals, locations, feeds provided
  • When vegetation starts to recover, phase out food stations provided to minimise habituation and dependence on supplementary feeding is only necessary for a few weeks. It is always best for animals to forage for their own food as soon as possible
  • If you find an injured animal, and it is safe to do so, contain it in a covered box in a dark, quiet place while waiting for a rescuer or until transporting the animal to a licensed wildlife rehabilitator  or veterinarian. It is important to note that bats (including flying foxes), adult kangaroos and venomous reptiles pose a serious risk to human handlers and should only be rescued by experienced personnel. Do not attempt to handle them yourself

Find out more about living with native animals

Make your property and garden wildlife-friendly by growing native food plants, creating suitable habitat and limiting use of chemicals and pesticides. As bushland recovers, your property may provide valuable “wildlife corridors” or “service stations” to help disperse native animals from bushfire areas to regenerating areas.

What to be aware of

  • Water is the top priority especially in early days of a response. Many animals are evolved to adapt to days or weeks without food but dehydration can kill very quickly. Eating when dehydrated can lead to serious gastro-intestinal issues and can be fatal.  Aim to allow animals to rehydrate, before feeding and if feeding always provide fresh water as well
  • Swimming pools can present a danger to thirsty wildlife even if other water sources are available. Keep your pool covered or secure a floatation device to the side of a pool such as a rope threaded through a pool noodle to allow wildlife to escape if they fall in while drinking. Check pools and skimmer boxes twice daily for wildlife that may have fallen in
  • Native animals have very special and diverse dietary needs. It’s always best for the health of wildlife to forage for food and water naturally so feeding is generally not recommended. Feeding of free-living wildlife has many risks (listed below) that can lead to serious, unintended harms. The preferred food for one may result in serious illness or even be deadly to another. If there is still vegetation or you are unsure, it is better not to offer food, and concentrate on providing fresh water
  • There may be regulated feeding programs already in place. Seek the authority of the landowner (this includes for public land). Obtain guidance and approval from appropriate state wildlife authorities (see links in Additional Resources, prior to providing any food in national parks and reserves and/or to isolated populations of threatened or endangered species). Partner with local wildlife volunteers, environmental groups like Landcare and government agencies like National Parks and Wildlife and Local Land Services to ensure the best long-term outcomes for the animals and the environment
  • Recommendations in each state or territory may differ, so if you are in an area outside of NSW, follow guidelines for your area (which can be found on the WHA website)
  • Contact with wildlife may affect your health and safety as well. Several diseases carried by animals can be transmitted by animals. Bats (including flying foxes), adult kangaroos and venomous reptiles pose a serious risk to human handlers and should only be rescued by experienced personnel. See link in Additional Resources for more info
  • Only licensed wildlife rescue and rehabilitation providers or qualified vets may take injured or orphaned native animals into care. You can use the IFAW Wildlife Rescue App to quickly find the one closest to you

Risks to keep in mind

  • Consumption of inappropriate foods risks serious illness and death
  • Longer term malnutrition affecting health and reproduction. Simple overfeeding is a risk. Urban wildlife are already more affected by obesity, dental disease and gastrointestinal disorders compared to those in bushland areas. Read more from the CSIRO
  • Long-term dependence on human-provided food and water sources
  • Increased spread of infectious diseases and parasite species
  • Increased chance of predation
  • Increased aggression within and between species in close proximity
  • Increased numbers of “bossy” species, reduction of “timid” species over time and disadvantaging more threatened species
  • Increase in feral species. Food provided for one species may also be found by unintended species, including pests
  • Increased animal numbers around feeding stations may put extra pressure on natural feeding sources and delay natural regeneration
  • Increase and spread of weeds to new locations. Some of these (ie. serrated tussocks) are commonly found in unsterilized hays and are potential ecosystem destroyers
  • Drowning or misadventure in unsuitable water containers
  • Human health and safety.  Increased risk of disease even when not in direct contact through exposure to faeces and urine as well as increased aggression towards people even when not feeding.
There are a number of ways you can make sure you are safely administering help to wildlife in need.
There are a number of ways you can make sure you are safely administering help to wildlife in need.


View additional resources

Additional information

Suitable foods guide

Check which foods are suitable for feeding uninjured wildlife.

Things to avoid

Read about what to avoid when caring for wildlife.