It is the sort of thing that wouldn't be everyone's dream job, but for Harry Kunz it has been a labor of love to be the heart and soul of the Eagles Nest Wildlife Hospital in Queensland, Australia. He isn't getting any younger and he is in search of someone who will love and care for these animals with the same passion he has had for them over the years.
In the past Kunz has been promised $100,000 a year by drug dealers to be able to use the remote property on the Atherton tablelands to grow their dope. They believed that for the right price he would forget his philanthropic mission and got for the bucks instead. No deal. Kunz spent the last five years trying to find someone to legitimately take over the five acres of land, the house, the sanctuary, and, most importantly, the care of some 1200 injured or orphaned animals. He hasn't been able to find the right buyer.
So Kunz changed the deal. Now the Eagles Nest Wildlife Hospital is free to the right owner. It is still an uphill job to find the right person who can take care of all of these animals without trying to turn the place into a tourist attraction or a zoo. The deal is about rescue and rehabilitation, not about commerce. This needs to be a labor of love because it takes about $60,000 a year to keep the place going. The bulk of this funding comes from donations, sponsors, and memberships. It also takes a team of volunteers to do a lot of the heavy lifting of cleaning, feeding, maintenance, and so forth to keep the place running.
“I’ve had a few offers but I said no, I want this continuing as a wildlife hospital because that’s what I’ve tried to do for almost 30 years now,” Kunz explained. “I don’t want to lose what I created and built up, every shred, with all my money.”
When Kunz arrived in the land Down Under from his native Austria in 1982 he was shocked to realize that veterinarians were euthanizing injured birds like cockatoos. Such birds would have cost $3,000 back in the old country. In his new country they were cheap -- just $10. It moved him to begin his animal hospital.
Since then he has taken in every kind of animal in North Queensland short of hairy wombats and crocodiles. Dingoes, emus, koalas, cassowaries, echidnas, snakes, and kangaroos have been among the animals treated at Eagles Nest. The hospital has a wonderful 78% survival rate for their rescued animals. Not all animals are able to be returned to the wild and those animals have a permanent home there. Few other places in Queensland are permanently licensed to keep animals for life.
Most of the animals that come in have been hit by cars, have been attacked by cats or dogs, or have been poisoned by chemicals or pesticides. Sometimes children come in carrying a joey (baby kangaroo) or young wallaby that has been orphaned. Kunz explained that they do this as their fathers, who shot the baby's parents, sit embarrassed and sheepish in their "utes" (utility vehicles). Kids can be good at reminding adults of our responsibility for the world's animals.
Kunz considers the biggest success of his efforts is when, through his animal education program, he manages to convince visitors to stop recreational hunting. “The worst thing I’ve discovered is that 98% of hunting is done because it’s ‘fun’,” he said. “There is no bigger, stupider predator than humans.”
The sanctuary has been created in an area of rain forests, waterfalls, and hot springs. Colorful rainbow lorikeets will stop by for a visit on a daily basis. People describe the area as a paradise. Kunz believes that Eagles Nest would best be run by a couple or a family. Prospective successors will be invited to come and train with Kunz for as long as need, and to reach a point where he is reassured that he has found the right people to take over his work.
And there is a lot to learn -- from knowing where to get truckloads of free bananas and sweet potatoes from local farmers, to fundraising, to maintaining the many grants that help keep the place running. It is not a venture for the faint of heart or someone looking to take it easy. As far as the qualifications of the right people, Kunz had this to say, “The only thing they need is the love for our environment and wildlife, and common sense.”
Kunz has received hundreds of messages and thousands of phone calls from people interested in his offer. It is going to take some serious time to sort through the offers and make sure that people are serious about the wildlife and not just looking for free land.
Don't think that you are going to get in on this now. The application process has been closed and the decision-making process has begun. Hopefully Harry Kunz will be as adept at choosing his successor as he was in rescuing and rehabilitating animals for 30+ years.
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