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Australia's Wildlife Whisperer

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Australia's Wildlife Whisperer

By Mark Hawthorne, Striking at the Roots
March 2013

Some time ago, my wife, Lauren, and I were visiting a small wildlife rehabilitation center north of Sydney, Australia, where volunteer and longtime activist Lindy Stacker showed us around. Lauren had spent many years working on behalf of kangaroos, and Lindy was one of her main Aussie contacts. Neither Lauren nor I had met a ‘roo in person, however (we wouldn’t think of visiting a zoo), so we were thrilled when Lindy took us to her facility and introduced us to several of these charismatic marsupials recovering from various ailments.

Australia wildlife whisperer Mark HawthorneHer other guest that day was a veterinarian named Howard Ralph, who was there to check up on one of the adult kangaroos. Dr. Ralph is not just a vet—his remarkably diverse medical background includes work as a surgeon, aesthetician, and emergency care worker—but he’s spent the last three decades treating injured, sick, and orphaned wildlife, all on a volunteer basis. Six years ago, he founded Southern Cross Wildlife Care (SCWC). During dinner, Dr. Ralph shared with us his photo album of patients, and it was clear there was no animal this humble man couldn’t help heal: tortoises with cracked shells, wombats with cataracts, baby kangaroos with broken limbs, koalas with burns, along with lizards, birds, frogs, wallabies, possums, bats, and many others. Indeed, he and his volunteers at SCWC treat more than 2,000 native animals every year, many of whom have been hit by vehicles on Australia’s busy roads.

“Howard never gives up on even the most sad and hopeless-looking situation,” says Lindy, who also volunteers at SCWC. “If you were a sick animal, trust me, you would want to look up and see the eyes of this most kind man looking over you. It is very difficult getting vets to care for wildlife. They just won’t afford our precious but often desperate wildlife the time and attention they need. It really breaks our hearts.”

“I could work treating wildlife 24 hours a day, seven days a week, forever because the need is overwhelming,” says Dr. Ralph. “There is a small nucleus of dedicated people that help with this, and without them it would be hopeless.”

It was after a brushfire that Dr. Ralph noticed the lack of volunteer assistance for Australia’s injured native species. “The wildlife were getting so little help and I thought, ‘Well, I have only got one life and I should put it to the best use I can, and the wildlife need it the most,’” he says.

Australia wildlife whisperer wombat
Wombat with fractured femur

Australia wildlife whisperer Mark Hawthorne
Bites and scratches are an occupational hazard, hence the bandages.

“People bring animals from all over Sydney, and they ring Dr. Ralph from anywhere in Australia for advice,” adds Lindy.

Without government or corporate funding, Southern Cross Wildlife Care struggles to meet its annual costs, which are more than AU$200,000. If you would like to donate any amount, please contact Lindy Stacker on 9982 1751 (from the US, that’s 011-61-9982-1751) or 0409 404570 or email lindystacker@yahoo.com.au.