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Rescuing wildlife

Think local

Dr Howard Ralph has been quietly saving countless animals from tragic endings for many years.

The Northern Beaches local, who graduated from veterinary medicine in 1971 and later qualified as a doctor in 1979, ran his own general veterinary practice for three decades before turning his attention full time to saving Australia's wildlife.

He started the Southern Cross Wildlife Care (SCWC) seven years ago with his wife, Glenda, and together with a very small, but very dedicated core of 10 volunteers, the organisation treats approximately 2,500 injured animals a year. The non-profit organisation helps to run two centres - one on the Northern Beaches and the other near Braidwood, NSW.

At the peninsula clinic, Dr Ralph treats quite a few possums, birds and reptiles, while in the Southern Tablelands, his patients also include kangaroos, wallabies, quolls, wombats, echidnas, eagles and other birds, snakes, monitors and other reptiles.

The majority of animals are brought to him as the result of road accidents. January is a particularly busy time of year for the vet, given the increased number of holiday-makers on the road. There are many orphans as a result, and a number of these orphans are also injured.

Another major cause of trauma to wildlife is harder to comprehend. Dr Ralph says there is a disturbing number of animals that are intentionally injured by humans.

"There is a lot of trauma caused by cruelty," he tells Peninsula Living, such as animals shot by guns and arrows, intentionally run over and even those hit with an axe or other implements.

Injuries due to fence entrapment are common. In particular, kangaroos and wallabies are caught by their feet and hang in the fence for hours or days suffering further trauma, dehydration, myopathy, stress and predation.

Some of these animals are rescued by wildlife rescue organisations that in turn contact Dr Ralph.

Not only is it unpaid work, but Dr Ralph says treating wildlife has its own inherent difficulties. These creatures are often in severe pain and their stress levels are high. These problems can be treated, but many of the animals are unfamiliar with humans - and in some cases, have very good reason to fear people.

Because of Dr Ralph's experience in this area, many other veterinarians call him for advice.

SCWC relies on donations and fundraising, however any costs not covered come entirely out of pocket. "Our philosophy is that wildlife should have access to the best quality veterinary medicine, anaesthesia and surgery," he says.

Despite the clinic operating on a shoestring budget, Dr Ralph insists that all native animals deserve treatment.

"We would never turn a patient away, ever. We never have and we never will," he simply states.

While Dr Ralph admits he would like to one day slow down, he doesn't envisage retiring completely.

"I will never retire, because I can't. There is always another patient, or two, or 20...," he says.


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