Veterinary Response Team reunites heifer with family

Thursday 24 March 2022

Massey's specialist veterinary response team recently came to the rescue of a seven-month-old heifer who had fallen down a riverbank in the aftermath of Cyclone Dovi.

Veterinary rescue team member calms fallen heifer

Response team member Tracie Poole comforts the fallen heifer.

Last updated: Monday 28 November 2022

The Massey University Veterinary Emergency Response Team (MUVERT) were contacted by animal shelter Helping You Help Animals (HUHA), after a family in Wainuiomata found their heifer trapped at the base of a steep riverbank. Cyclone Dovi, which hit in early February, had made the bank slippery, and the frightened animal had fallen 10 metres to the bottom and was unable to get herself back up from the bank of the flooding river.

The MUVERT team of five, led by team manager Professor Christopher Riley from the School of Veterinary Science, mobilised and responded in their rescue vehicle. The other members were team leader Michelle Fremaux, responders Tracie Poole and Martin Steer from Wildbase, and Riddet Institute Research Officer Parthasarathi Subramanian. Large animal rescue equipment was required, including a pulley, climbing anchors, ropes, swift water equipment, and personal protection equipment.

Photo of the veterinary rescue team members

MUVERT team manager Professor Christopher Riley (far right) and the rescue team.

Upon arriving on the scene, two team members descended the bank, assessed the risks, located the heifer, and formulated a humane rescue plan. A hauling system was set up in the paddock above the riverbank while the heifer was sedated. Strops were placed around her and attached to the specially designed quick-release spread bar. This was attached to a rope passed over and down the riverbank drop off. After further sedation, the team at the top of the riverbank hoisted her skyward via the anchored pulley, to the safety of the family farm. Uninjured, the heifer's first order of business was to eat as she'd been without normal food for several days, surviving only on riverbank weeds. The rescue took about two-and-a-half hours.

Heifer is hauled up steep riverbank

The heifer is hauled up the steep and slippery riverbank.

Professor Riley says members of Animal Evac New Zealand were also invited to observe the rescue. “We asked them along as we are supporting their aim of training another technical animal response team for New Zealand. We're actively involved in the Ministry of Primary Industry’s National Animal Welfare Emergency Management Sub Function to enhance national capability for animals in disasters and emergency situations." Professor Riley is the Deputy Chair of the Sub Function.

MUVERT is a uniquely trained specialist animal rescue team recognised for their work internationally. The team’s capabilities include conducting technical rescue, performing in-field veterinary care, and aiding in disaster assessment. The team is completely voluntary, and comprised of veterinarians, vet technologists, animal handlers and other skilled Massey staff.