In the spotlight - Dr Howard Ralph
Working tirelessly, often well past midnight to meet the never ending demand, Dr Howard Ralph is often the last hope for many native animals.
Dr Howard Ralph is perhaps as rare as some of the species he has treated. A qualified veterinary surgeon, as well as a doctor of human medicine and an anaesthetist, he wears many professional hats, but his true passion is treating native animals. His work in this niche area is saving our species, one animal at a time.
Dr Ralph has travelled a highly unusual path to becoming one of Australia’s leading wildlife surgeons. After working as a veterinarian for several years, he decided that it would be sensible to treat all species. He returned to study medicine, graduated with honours, and then studied post graduate anaesthesia, emergency medicine and forensic medicine. He has continued over the years to work across both human and non-human medicine.
With a career spanning almost fifty years, from working at Taronga Zoo, to various hospital emergency departments, to projects overseas, and disasters such as oil spills, bushfires, floods and cyclones, Dr Ralph has incredible hands-on experience with different treatment methods and species to not only save lives and reduce suffering, but allow wild animals to return to their natural habitat.
Most conservationists will focus on an entire population, but Dr Ralph takes a very different approach, recognizing that every animal, no matter how battered or broken, deserves the best chance at survival.
"I don’t subscribe to the theory that we should treat people, domestic animals and native animals differently. They’re all living, sentient beings that feel pain and suffering, and should be treated with respect and compassion and not be denied access to modern, high quality treatments.”
With wife Glenda – a qualified physiotherapist, registered nurse and veterinary nurse – the couple founded Southern Cross Wildlife Care (SCWC). The charity provides life-saving treatment and care for native wildlife suffering from various traumas such as barbed wire fence injuries, broken limbs, cataracts, serious infections, being orphaned, and, sadly often deliberate acts of violence such as gunshot injuries.
People often travel for hours, sometimes days to seek his special help at the SCWC wildlife research and care centre. They know Dr Ralph will do everything within his power to save an animal and because of his great wealth of skills and experience, he usually can.
Whilst most patients are macropods, bare-nosed wombats, possums, echidnas, and various reptiles and bird species, Dr Ralph also treats threatened fauna such as:
Wildlife carers seek Dr Ralph’s help because they may not have access to care elsewhere. He is often their only hope.
“It is frustrating that our wild native animals do not get the respect they deserve. If they are injured, sometimes there is an attitude that because they are wildlife then they do not need help”. Regardless of species or size of animal, Dr Ralph will not turn them away.
“It is often necessary to adapt standard equipment and techniques to the needs of particular patients, particularly if they are unusual, very small or very young.”
For example, a threatened giant burrowing frog suffering multiple injuries after being hit by a car would have normally been another loss to a dwindling population. But Dr Ralph did orthopaedic surgery on the patient, carefully inserting sterile surgical metal pins in the legs. This lucky amphibian made a full recovery and was returned to the wild. Similarly, a tiny microbat with a fracture from an entanglement with an outside fan, was also successfully released after treatment of the injury with a pin, fashioned from a sterile needle, in his wing.
To learn more about the Saving our Species program or to get involved, visit our website.