Meet the Locals: Jason Cichocki
As a local community, we share the Surf Coast with a spectacular array of wildlife.
Yet as we encroach even further into their habitat, there are going to be dramatic consequences for the animals – like road traffic or bush fires. Thank goodness, we are blessed to have Jason Cichocki and Surfcoast Wildlife Rescue, which he runs with his partner, Remedios, ready to tend to the animals in their time of desperate need.
While many readers would be familiar with Jason and the incredible work of Surfcoast Wildlife Rescue, what you may not know is that his work is 100 percent voluntary, and he’s been doing it for over 10 years. With every call out, Jason leaves his workshop, South West Automotive Services, in the capable hands of his 10-year-long employee Dillon McAuliffe, in order to perform animal rescues all over the Surf Coast.
Jason, first off thanks for your service to our local wildlife, where do you find the time?
The animals need somebody to do this! Most days, I spend more time rescuing animals than running my business. Thankfully, I’ve got two fantastic employees. As long as they keep fixing cars, I can afford to rescue animals.
Have you always loved wildlife?
From the ages of five to 15, every single weekend we used to go to our family property in Central Victoria. My twin brother Dale has cerebral palsy. We’d wander off into the bush and there were a couple of spots we used to sit and the animals used to hang around with us. There were rabbits, birds and kangaroos. I also used to rescue horses from the sale yards, so they wouldn’t be sent off to be killed for dog meat. I did a paper round, saved my money, went to the sales, brought the horses and took them to our property to live out their natural lives.
How did you end up in Torquay?
I was living in Melbourne and I’d drive down here to the surf. I came for a job as an auto electrician. I’d only planned to stay for a year, but now 30-something years later, I’m still here!
Tell us how you got into the wildlife rescue business?
I was present in a situation where a large male kangaroo had a broken leg. The friend I was with, called David from Leopold Wildlife Rescue. At the time, he was the only person who was capable of performing such a rescue. Halfway through, David suffered a medical incident. My friend stepped in to tend to him and I finished off the rescue under David’s guidance. The next day, he called and said that he’d never seen someone perform a rescue so naturally, with no training. He said he was keen to take me under his wing to learn wildlife rescues.
How did you start Surfcoast Wildlife Rescue?
Remedios and I started Surfcoast Wildlife Rescue 2 years ago. Now we’ve got about 30 people available who help rescue animals in need. We rescue all animals from kangaroos, wallabies and koalas, to domestic animals.
Just researching the market?
I’ve heard you cover a wide area, and have been called to help animals from Lara to Apollo Bay and across to Portarlington?
Yes, we cover a massive area that starts at the other side of the You Yangs and goes all the way to Apollo Bay.
What happens once you perform a rescue?
We work closely with many local vets. However, Torquay and Surfcoast Veterinary Clinic is our main vet. Dr Kate Gittings has been phenomenal at helping us help the animals of the region. There have been days when I’ve taken in up to 10 animals there to be assessed. Never once has she asked for any money. She’s put as much time, money and effort into it as we have. We’ve got a good rapport and a good team, including our volunteers, the vets, vet nurses and members of the public, who report injured animals. It is a chain of events that sees an animal rescued and as rescuers we are but one link in this chain.
How can the Surf Coast community help?
Over the last few weekends, I have travelled over 1,000km rescuing animals. Fuel has gone down in price but it is still costly. If you would like help us, please donate fuel cards! Then you’ll know exactly where the money is going. We also need blankets and towels. I can go through 10 to 20 of these a day.
Also, the biggest proportion of our rescues is made up of cars colliding with animals, so I ask everybody to please slow down!
I believe you’ve been working on a new project with Vic Roads?
One of the members, Sharon Andrews, is a data analyst. She identified that we weren’t keeping any data on the collisions that cars were having with macropods (like kangaroos and wallabies). Sharon set up an app that we have on our phones to collect all the data and the GPS location. We’re the only people in Australia doing this. Vic Roads have approached us to identify hotspots, so they can work eliminating animal kill zones.
What is the best way for people to contact you?
We can be contacted 24/7 on 0422 048 557. We are available to help you help the animals anytime of the day or night.
If I can’t do the rescue then I’ll put the call out, to see who’s available. Over the years, I’ve offered training courses to give the basics, however, the key component is that you need to love and care for the animals.
Thanks, Jason, for all that you do to help our injured animals. You and your team are simply amazing.