Meet Raptor-Rose, custodian of the Pilbara’s birds of prey

Wildlife carer Rose Best has been running the Pilbara’s only animal rehabilitation centre for well over a decade.
By Angela Heathcote February 7, 2018 Reading Time: 5 Minutes

EVER SINCE ROSE Best first built aviaries on her property in Karratha, Western Australia in 1994, she says, they’ve never been empty. 

From tiny finches, to large birds of prey, Rose has rehabilitated some of the Pilbara region’s most powerful and ecologically important birds.

But her favourite bird has always been the wedge-tailed eagle.

“Wedge-tailed eagles, especially the males, are big sooky monsters,” she tells Australian Geographic. “Believe it or not they love being wrapped up and held when they’re injured. They close their eyes, they know they’re safe.”

Rose first arrived in Australia from Rhodesia, South Africa in 1989, initially settling in Perth for a short three years before moving to Karratha to be closer to wildlife where she built three aviaries out of her own pocket. In 2000, she set up the Pilbara Wildlife Carer Association (PWCA).

See more: This is why Aussie “firehawk” raptors are spreading bushfires

“There were people taking care of bits and pieces around the place and then in 2000 we formed a group and decided on the name and wrote up the constitution.”

Unlike Australia’s East Coast, which is dotted with rehabilitation centres and sanctuaries, Rose’s is the only place in the Pilbara that rehabilitates wildlife, and she certainly has her work cut out for her.

Rehabilitating raptors

In 2010 Rose moved to Dampier, just north-west of Karratha, where she constructed much larger aviaries suited to rehabilitating birds of prey such as wedge-tailed eagles, sea eagles and kestrels.

The time she’s spent looking after these birds has taught her a lot about how much the average person underestimates bird intelligence.

One experience with a wedge-tailed eagle that she’s since nicknamed “Lucky”, who was hit by a truck while travelling across the coastal town of Carnarvon, was particularly eye opening.

 “I’d cut up his meat and I’d feed him. We’re talking about a full grown male that was about 8-years-old, but he just took the meat so gently,” Rose says.

“One day I went to cut up his meat and he gave me such a fright. He put his foot on top of my hand and looked at me and I went “oh okay” and I left the meat for him.

“He was letting me know that I didn’t have to cut it up for him anymore and he stood there on the chopping board and ate his meat by himself.”

While most raptors such as Lucky only need a few months rehabilitation, others can take up to three years until they are healthy enough to be released.

“I had a sea eagle for 997 days. He’d been hit and found on the side of the road. Nothing was broken but he lost all his primary feathers meaning he couldn’t fly,” Rose recalls.

“The hard thing was that you’ve got this bare wing, and one feather will start to grow in the middle, it’s got no feathers to support it on either side and it twists and falls out.

“You have to wait for them to grow back in order. It took three years until I could release him.”

rose best

From egg to powerful bird of prey

Right now Rose has six young kestrels in her care that arrived to her as eggs.

She says this regularly happens after developers find nests that need to be removed at new building sites.

They require round the clock care while they’re being incubated and, once hatched, fledglings need to be taught how to hunt otherwise they won’t survive in the wild.

“We’re not allowed to use live prey so you’ll take a [dead] mouse and drag it through the aviary. You also have to give them cotton reels and plastic golf balls to play with so they dive on them and play hunt with them,’ Rose explans.

“There are usually other birds in the aviary with them. At the moment, the butcher bird I have loves pulling their tails when they fly. But this is what happens in the wild and they have to deal with it.” 

Wedge-tailed eagles under threat in the Pilbara

Back in 2009, Rose began a campaign in WA to warn people travelling along the north-west coastal highway or the inland highway about collisions with wedge-tailed eagles.

“We had all these brochures that all the roadhouses gave out to make people aware of the eagles, which would hopefully prevent them from ending up at my rehab in the first place,” she says.

See more: 10 beautiful birds to look out for in the red centre

After Rose was given a federal grant the campaign went national.

“I had 20,000 brochures and bumper stickers printed, and I stated a national database for carers in other states, so if someone hit a wedge-tailed eagle in outback New South Wales they could go on the wedge-tailed eagle website to see who the closest carer was.”

The Pilbara in a sad state for wildlife protection

“I look after the whole of the Pilbara region. We extend as far as the Anna Plains, Carnarvon and then from the Sandy Desert all the way to Purnululu,” Rose explains.

She regularly receives emails from volunteers and veterinary students from across the world asking to work at her facility. Unfortunately, her home simply isn’t big enough to accommodate them.

Her dream for many years now has been to open a world-class wildlife rehabilitation centre that would allow for this to happen.

An accountant by profession, Rose has worked hard to devise a plan for the centre as she sees it as a “game changer” for wildlife care in WA.

“I’ve drawn up the plans, I’ve costed them and I’ve found the land. I’ve got it worked out so it’s actually sustainable,” she says.

“We desperately need a wildlife rehab centre. It drives me crazy; there are 78 listed threatened and endangered species in the Pilbara and no way to look after them if they run into trouble.”

Pilbara raptors

Mining in the Pilbara

Three years ago mining company Rio Tinto provided the PWCA with three years of funding.

“I would travel out to the sites to deliver on-site training to the workers, showing them how to look after injured wildlife,” Rose says.

“They have to invest in it because they need that environmental tick and so by saying they take the wildlife to wildlife carers they can tick that box.”

Rose would like to see more investment in wildlife from other mining companies.

“Andrew Forrest and Gina Rineheart are both philanthropic. My squeal is that they both mine in the Pilbara, they both have cattle farms but I don’t see anything being put back into the region. Their operations impact the environment and the animals. They need to put something back.”