One man’s dream of bringing Tasmania’s eagles up close and personal to the state’s schoolchildren is about to be realised with the opening of an educational centre at the Raptor and Wildlife Refuge in Kettering.
Eagle expert Craig Webb has spent more than a decade developing the refuge on his 10-hectare property and at the same time has released into the wild countless wedge-tailed and sea eagles brought to him for care.
Although saving eagles and other birds of prey has been his priority Webb has long held hopes of showing his charges to Tasmania’s schoolchildren and specialist groups to spread the conservation message to a new generation.
The classroom and toilet block he had long planned is now virtually complete and is set for an opening early in the new year.
“The refuge is still about rescuing injured eagles and returning them to the wild but conservation is important, too, and what better than to bring the wonder of raptors to children, so they can see them close up and appreciate their beauty and power?” he said when gave me a guided tour of the refuge recently.
I’ve known Craig Webb for many years and each time I have visited the refuge I have been surprised by the developments taking place, aviaries big and small, and outbuildings, built largely by his own hand.
The new classroom bears the Webb stamp. It is octagonal in shape and this design enables not only an exhibits table to be placed at its centre, but allows one-way windows on three sides to look out on aviaries attached to the building’s outer walls.
Atop the classroom is a giant sculpture of an eagle, in modernist style, created by Keith Smith who has a studio on BrunyIsland.
“What I didn’t want was a room that looked like a classroom,” Webb said. “I didn’t want the kids to think they were still in school. A trip here has to be an adventure, but still marry an educational experience.”
Although quietly doing eagle conversation work for years, Webb came to prominence in the early 2000s when he took over the birds housed in an aviary at Risdon Prison. This aviary had been operated by the prison and state wildlife authorities as a rehabilitation exercise for both eagles and prisoners but it had to close when the prison was rebuilt.
Webb had already built a giant eagle aviary using fish-farm netting and since then has added an even bigger structure which stands 28 metres in height, making it the biggest building of its kind in the southern hemisphere. Webb has also built smaller aviaries and when I visited recently these were home to a variety of birds, masked and boobok owls, little and brown falcons and white and brown goshawks among them.
Some of these would be released but others – like a masked owl that had lost an eye – would spend the rest of their days at the refuge.
With the opening of the education centre, these captive birds can have a new role as educational tools for the visiting children.
Another addition to the refuge’s infrastructure is a flight tunnel in which eagles and smaller raptors recovering from wing injuries can be exercised. Birds of prey can also be exhibited in what Webb terms a “flying gymnasium”.
The Raptor and Wildlife Refuge is operated as a not-for-profit charity and is supported by members and sponsors. Its biggest fund-raiser is the sale of a calendar featuring rescued birds.
When not attending to his birds – and mammals – brought in for care Webb works as a concreter and a piece of his handywork in this direction can be seen at the entrance to the classroom. A concrete floor has imprints of Tasmanian devil paws and eagle claws in it, using stuffed specimens supplied by wildlife biologist Nick Mooney.
For more details about the refuge, or to order a calendar, go to www.raptorrefuge.com.au