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The top animal rescues of 2023

The top animal rescues of 2023

For 200 years, the RSPCA has been there for animals in need of a helping hand  - and last year was no different!

The animal welfare charity's rescuers were called to help thousands of animals in 2023. Many needed to be saved from cruelty, abuse, abandonment and neglect, while others just needed a hand to get out of a sticky situation!

Dermot Murphy, RSPCA Inspectorate Commissioner from the animal charity's frontline rescuers, said:  "With our teams out on the frontline rescuing animals from danger and suffering 365 days a year, we are often their only hope. We're asking animal lovers to join the winter rescue by donating to help rescue teams reach the thousands of animals who desperately need them. 

"The RSPCA is celebrating its 200th birthday this year and during that time the charity has been working tirelessly to bring animals to safety and give them the expert treatment and compassion they deserve. We'll continue to do so for as long as we're needed but we can't do that without the support of fellow animal lovers."We are urging supporters to join our million-strong movement for animals so we can continue our life-saving work by visiting our website."

Here are the top 10 stories from 2023

1. Missing cat rescued from 30-metre mine shaft in Cornwall

RSPCA Animal Rescue Officer Stephen Findlow attended a large mine shaft in Callington, Cornwall, where it was discovered that a cat called Mowgli had fallen 30 metres down to the bottom.

Stephen said: "The owner had been missing the cat for four days and was constantly brought to the location by her dog, as it sniffed the cat out! This is when the owner heard the calls from Mowgli and alerted us."

After a tricky rescue, Cornwall Fire and Rescue Service made it to the bottom of the mine to help Mowgli back to the surface.  A local vet examined Mowgli, gave him the all clear from injuries despite losing 2kg. He was reunited with his sibling and was very happy to see his owner.

2. Fox cub found with litter around their neck

This remarkable photograph of a fox cub highlights what a hazard litter can pose to wildlife. The RSPCA hopes that it will act as a reminder that rubbish is harmful to wildlife. The animal charity was contacted by members of the public who reported that the cub had been struggling for three weeks in June.

3. Adder rescued from 8ft drop outside Surrey manor house

An adder was safely rescued and released back into the wild by the RSPCA after dropping more than 8ft into a lightwell in Guildford. The snake was discovered by a basement window at a manor house in Normandy, Guildford in September. 

Animal Rescue Officer Louis Horton: said: "This rescue was quite exciting for me as I've handled loads of exotics over the years, and rescued plenty of our native grass snakes, but never had the fortune to rescue an adder. I've always wanted to see one and he didn't disappoint. I used my snake handling kit to rescue him safely. Adder's are venomous so the callers were right to call us out. I assessed the adder first to make sure he didn't require treatment at a wildlife hospital, thankfully he had no injuries and looked healthy.

"Overall the snake was surprisingly well behaved, I think it helped that I'm experienced and didn't upset him too much! I managed to successfully release him into a nearby wooded area, he slithered away with no issues!"

Adders (Vipera berus) are native to the UK and prefer open habitats such as heathland, moorland and open woodland and hunting small mammals and lizards. They are rarely found in gardens. Under the Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981 (as amended) all native British reptile species are legally protected and the intentional killing or injuring, or sale of any species is an offence.   

4. RSPCA water rescue team called to help horses in flooded field near M1

The water rescue team was called into action in Nottinghamshire in October after reports that two horses were at risk of drowning in a flooded field. The owner of the horses reported that they were unable to reach the animals due to rising flood waters caused by the severe rain during Storm Babet. Derbyshire Fire and Rescue Service contacted the RSPCA for their help to try and rescue the horses who were stuck in the flooded field after the River Erewash burst its banks.

Animal rescue officer, Steve Wickham said: "The force of the water was immense and we were really struggling against the current but we managed to get into the field with ropes attached to us for our own safety. The horses were frightened when we approached and we were really concerned that they could move into more dangerous flood waters or even into the river.

"We consulted with the Met Office and were told that the floodwaters were due to subside so - along with the fire service - we took a decision to leave the horses in situ but to closely monitor them, in case they needed further assistance. I'm delighted to say the waters did go down as forecast and the horses were later led to safety and enjoyed a good feed - a happy ending."

Steve added that the incident highlighted the importance of animal owners following important advice to keep animals and livestock safe - and if a weather warning is issued move animals to higher ground.

5. Two-metre long boa constrictor found in Plymouth car park

A boa constrictor was helped to safety by an RSPCA volunteer after being found in a car park in Plymouth in September. The two-metre long snake was collected by Animal Rescue Volunteer Dawn Lapthorn and taken to a specialist reptile centre after being found in a car park.

RSPCA volunteer coordinator, Chief Inspector John Atkinson, said: "We're so grateful to all our volunteers for everything they do to help animals. Dawn's a shining light of animal welfare and has helped rescue all sorts of animals. She has great experience with snakes so knew just what to do after getting the call about the boa constrictor. 

"We're always keen to welcome more volunteers to help our charity help as many animals as possible, but don't worry, you don't have to know how to handle snakes! From dog walking to van driving, from data entry to campaigning on animal welfare issues - the RSPCA offers a tremendous variety of roles for aspiring volunteers to get stuck into."

6. Trapped deer lifted to freedom

Animal heroes helped a trapped deer to safety after she found herself stuck down a deep hole.

The complex rescue - which saw a team of the charity's rope and water rescue officers working as one to help the distressed deer - ended in joy as the deer ran back into the wild where she belongs. RSPCA rescuers were called in to lend their specialist skills after the distressed deer was discovered in a deep hole in the grounds of a property in Romsey, Hampshire, in August.

RSPCA Inspector Miranda Albinson, one of the team who helped the deer to safety, said: "It was great to be able to see her get up and safely run free. It's these special moments that makes the rescue work we do to help animals so rewarding.

"It was a confined space beside a large pond so we knew we had to act carefully and quickly because deer can become easily stressed and this has a huge impact on their health and wellbeing. She was darted with a tranquilliser before being carefully lifted out and placed in a safe area to give her the time she needed to recover."

7. Heartwarming moment RSPCA officer releases badger she rescued

A lucky badger leapt back to his natural habitat in July thanks to an RSPCA officer who rescued him from a four foot hole in the ground.

RSPCA animal rescue officer Cara Gibbon was called to a field in Solihull after the charity received reports that a badger was stuck at the bottom of an uncovered four feet deep manhole in the ground.  

The badger had fallen down into the hole which contained plastic piping that he could hide inside. The RSPCA advised the caller to place a piece of wood in the hole as a ramp and monitor the badger in the morning to see if he could free himself, but it became clear he had no way of escape.

Cara said: "This beautiful badger was in a real fix and there was no way he could have got himself out without my help. If a wild animal isn't in immediate danger, it can be best to monitor them first to see if they can free themselves, but in this case, intervention was the only way to save him.

"After blocking the pipe that the badger was hiding in, I was able to lie on the ground and reach down wearing my gloves, and lift him up safely out of the hole. I popped him into a secure carrier to check him for injuries, and because I was a little concerned that he was underweight, I took him to a local wildlife specialist for a second opinion. 

"Thankfully, after a few days of being monitored and fed, we were satisfied he could be safely released back to the wild. I transported him back to where he was found and made sure the manhole was covered over. Watching him scuttle off back to his home was such a joy for me - it's moments like this that really make my job worthwhile."

8. Beavers saved from drowning 

Two beavers arrived at a specialist RSPCA wildlife centre after being saved from drowning in an overflow drain. The beavers were brought into RSPCA West Hatch centre by Secret World Rescue who had responded to a phone call about an animal trapped in Frome, Somerset. The caller thought it might have been an otter. 

Upon arrival, the rescue team discovered not one but two beavers trapped in around a metre's worth of dirty water and at risk of drowning. 

The very unusual guests arrived at RSPCA West Hatch wildlife centre near Taunton in October where they were given supportive care as they regained strength. After careful transportation from the wildlife centre, the beavers were released back into the wild. 

Dr David Couper, who has been a specialist wildlife vet at RSPCA West Hatch for around 20 years, added: "Around 18,000 animals are admitted at our four wildlife centres annually, rescued by members of the public, the RSPCA inspectorate and other animal welfare charities. We deal with around 200 different species, from pygmy shrews, to grey seals. While all of these animals are interesting in their own right, there is an added buzz to dealing with a rare species. We'll certainly never forget welcoming the beavers. It was an honour to be able to lend a helping hand at a time of need."

9. Seal pup found 18 miles inland rescued and returned to the sea

A seal pup had to be rescued from a farmer's field in Lancashire after it went for a wander from a nearby river in January.

The grey seal was spotted about a kilometre (0.6 miles) away from the River Ribble near the Capitol Centre in Walton-le-Dale, Preston.

It seems the seal had wandered across three farmers fields before he was spotted by a member of the public who alerted the British Divers Marine Life Rescue (BDMLR) and the RSPCA as well as the practice manager from the nearby Vets4Pets.

RSPCA animal rescue officer Kelly Nix, was sent to the scene and assisted the BDMLR in safely containing the seal in a cage and then sought advice from the charity's Stapeley Grange Wildlife Centre in Cheshire.

She said: "The seal had come from the river - which is 18 miles inland from the coast - but this isn't unusual and seals are spotted in our waterways and will happily find their own way back to the sea.

"I spoke to specialists at our centre who were concerned that about putting him back in the river due to the amount of dog walkers in the area as their pets could spook the seal causing him to travel further inland. So we took the seal, who looked really healthy, to the RNLI base in Fleetwood and we released him into the sea there. The seal was a bit reluctant to go in the water at first so had to gently encourage him.

"Then off he went into the sea - it was so heart-warming to see. I'm not sure why he came so far inland but seals have been spotted in the river here before.

"It seems he then got out for a wander and must have lost his way so it was a good job his predicament was spotted."

10. Iguana rescued after escaping up a tree

An iguana named Einstein had to be rescued from a tree after he made his great 'igscape' through the cat flap at his home.

Einstein made his escape from his home in Horncastle, Lincolnshire, in May after he followed the family's feline through the cat flap! He had been on the run for over 24 hours when he was spotted 12 metres up a tree in a nearby neighbour's garden. The RSPCA was called and requested the assistance of the fire service and a crew from Louth and Horncastle Fire and Rescue attended.

Einstein was not so clever as he got himself stuck on a flimsy branch which was making it difficult to reach him by a ladder - so reinforcements were called for and Todd Wilson, a tree surgeon and also an on call firefighter at Horncastle but was off duty at the time came to help with the rescue. He was able to get up the tree and reached the branch to pull Einstein over to him where he placed him in a box and made it secure before bringing him down - to the applause of the watching audience!