May 12 - 18, 2013: Issue 110

 Southern Cross Wildlife Care

“If I can do something to alleviate the stress, pain and suffering of these animals…that’s why I do this work.”
Dr. Howard Ralph, Founder

Recently we attended a fundraiser for Southern Cross Wildlife Care and met the great team led by Dr. Howard Ralph, a skilled veterinarian who has saved thousands of our native wildlife of every furred, finned, scaled and feathered kind. Southern Cross Wildlife Care has an affirmed policy of ‘every critter is welcome because every creature belongs’. However, Wildlife veterinarians with this level of skill are few and far between. Add to that a commitment that has developed the apparatus required and worked out the chemical balance needed to administer anaesthetics to animals weighing from a few grams to several kilograms and you get some insight to the level of care constantly being developed and maintained here. This does not communicate witnessing a tall giant hold gently a tiny injured ringtail possum and instantly know what is wrong and what can be done to heal this though. A sense of someone who has done this so well and for so long they breathe it is solid, tangible, replete.

If all those he has saved could speak Dr Ralph would have been Australian of the Year every year for decades now and those who support his work deftly communicate in a language you too speak what our Australian Native animals are saying right now…. ‘save us, help us, we are being maimed, shot, trapped, hunted, run over and left in agony at the sides of your roads, killed to the point of extinction.’ 

Every place has unique wildlife that have developed and made gardens of Eden all around the world, in air, water and on earth. If we continue to lose our doe eyed and brilliant ones at the rate we currently are we will lose much more then the purest essence of our land, we will also lose our sentient connection with knowing what it is to really be alive. You cannot buy being able to stand in your yard and hear one bird after another sing through the trees and all this brings to your senses, not if the birds are all gone. You cannot purchase any visual entertainment that will let you experience being in scrubland and hearing then seeing a kangaroo come towards you then bound across your path before the bush is quiet again. You cannot buy being really really alive even if it is the one thing you may be here to know, to taste and experience. You can invest in it though, make sure your children may know this too, go without your coffee in cafes for a week, and put the cents/sense saved into this kind of work. You will get a tiny trill of it then, maybe even see a doe eyed wonderful blinking wisely at you out the corner of your eye.

This week we are very privileged to share a small insight into another Pittwater wonder – the Southern Cross Wildlife Care organisation and its works. We thank Lindy Stacker, one of the SCWC volunteers, for her generous help in compiling this profile and answering our questions.

When did Southern Cross Wildlife begin?

Southern Cross Wildlife Care was launched over 5 years ago now. It was the brainchild of Dr Howard Ralph, the founder and chief veterinarian.

What does SCWC do?

SCWC was established solely for the purpose of treating injured, sick and orphaned wildlife. No wild creature in need that passes through our doors is ever rejected. They all receive the care and attention that they deserve by our incredible vet and volunteer vet nurses and our small team of committed 'helpers'. We are in the privileged position of having our own consultant veterinarian with special expertise in the treatment and care of native fauna and who has a wealth of experience in this undervalued field. Howard is highly skilled but more importantly 'highly compassionate'. Many people can acquire these skills but compassion and empathy is a rare virtue, especially when one receives no remuneration for their dedication. Howard has in fact devoted most of his life to treating wildlife on a 24/7 basis. He never has any down time and has had few holidays in the decades he has been caring for our precious wildlife that so few others value with this level of concern. 

Please share an insight into the scope of these works.

Howard treats animals (wildlife) from hundreds of miles away and some carers come from interstate. Remarkable as this is, these wildlife carers often have no one else to turn to and go to great lengths to ensure that their 'friends' receive the best treatment available. Howard never gives up even on the most hopeless of 'cases' whilst they have breath in their bodies. Birds come to him that have not even had their broken wings strapped or splinted by other vets. These procedures would take only a few minutes. Many are not given pain relief or sedatives. Fractures are a constant issue, with many not treated at all ie: with splints/ bandage strapping or anti- biotics. Our aim is of course to return all these desperate creatures back into their original 'habitat' but this isn't always possible. Our carers spend a lot of time following various procedures in order to rehabilitate all of these animals in need. Some animals die sadly even under the expert care of Howard, who takes every loss to heart. Even though Howard has a admirable success rate(considering many animals are bought to him on death’s door)some animals can't be saved regardless of the attention and expert medical care they receive. Having said this, I actually have seen Howard resurrect the dead in front of my very own eyes. Howard does create miracles.

What plans for the future does SCWC have?

Howard will continue to work to save wildlife until he absolutely no longer can. Even then I believe we will have to forcibly hold him down. We are always looking for dedicated veterinarians who are willing to offer their time (volunteer) to assist Howard and to become better skilled in relation to the many species of wildlife we are fortunate to have in this country. One of our major achievements was to establish our wildlife care centre at Braidwood (near Goulburn). This has been a dream of ours for many years. It is a facility with up to date medical equipment and we are all very proud of this achievement which came to fruition without any government funding. All of the renovations, equipment and medical supplies was financed by kind supporters, friends and many fundraisers.

How can everyone help?

People can assist SCWC by volunteering their skills ie: veterinary; medical; experienced wildlife carers; fundraising; "IT" skills; media; admin; website etc. We are always having to address the issue of finances as we are a non commercial veterinary service for wildlife in need, who obviously don't have cheque books in their pouches. It is a constant concern and struggle of ours when we are pre-occupied with the care and treatment of the escalating amount of wildlife that we have to deal with. Just becoming a member of SCWC for $45 a year would be a great help. Regular monthly donations however small, would be a wonderful gift and we could plan ahead knowing that we had x amount of funds that we could count on. Our small team of volunteers are all unpaid even our amazing vet Howard, so all funds raised go directly towards our precious wildlife. We are now TAX DEDUCTIBLE.

Are there any favourite release sites in Pittwater?

It's hard to pick one or two favourite sites in Pittwater, it's a beautiful area and the entire Pittwater basin is amazingly spectacular. We are very lucky to be living on the northern beaches. Release sites for wildlife are becoming more and more difficult to find though. Some wildlife can not be re-homed in their original 'habitat' because the area or site is totally inappropriate and unsafe. 

What is Southern Cross wildlife Care’s 'motto for life' or a favourite phrase you try to live by?

Essentially our motto for life would be 'appreciate our wildlife'.....often we are the last hope for wildlife and Howard certainly puts life back into the wild. Do no harm I believe Howard would say and value those who are defenceless. 

Be a voice for wildlife for they deserve our concern and empathy.

Southern Cross Wildlife Care Website at:

Dr. Howard Ralph, 2013. 

 Left to right: Eira Battaglia (NB Roadkill), Peter and Sue Glasson, Lynleigh Grieg, Lindy Stacker, Dr Howard Ralph (all Southern Cross Wildlife Care), Sonja Elwood (Sydney Wildlife). Front: Kayleigh Grieg.  

 Copyright Southern Cross Wildlife Care, 2013.