Englishman Les Stocker, an amateur wildlife pioneer and Rolex Awards Laureate, who, without any formal qualifications, developed an entire discipline of veterinary science, died on 16 July 2016, at the age of 73.
Stocker’s dedication, for almost 40 years, to providing care for injured and sick wildlife began in the late 1970s when, while working as an accountant, he stumbled across an injured hedgehog and brought it to a vet who suggested the animal be “put to sleep”. Stocker disagreed and cared for the hedgehog himself. More hedgehog care followed and, with the help of his wife Sue, his initiative eventually led to the establishment of St Tiggywinkles in Buckinghamshire, England, Europe’s first wildlife teaching hospital.
The hospital, which is funded by a charity, the Wildlife Hospital Trust, set up by the Stockers, cares for numerous species, from deer to frogs, and now has 40 staff, including 12 nurses and a resident veterinary surgeon. Open every day of the year, it is visited by vets from all over the world and cares for 10,000 wild animals annually. Stocker estimated last year that, since 1978, he and his staff had treated 250,000 casualties at what has become the world’s busiest wildlife hospital. Tiggywinkles also provides advice on an emergency phone line to people with injured animals around the world, and has received a total of a million calls.
Stocker wrote over a dozen books about wildlife, the best-known being the 330-page manual, Practical Wildlife Care. Every year, 20 students study and work at Tiggywinkles on a 12-month government-accredited course in animal welfare. And Stocker lobbied vigorously for wildlife care to be added to the curriculum of training courses for vets.
Les Stocker received his Rolex Award in 1990. It was, he said, “the first award that I received, cementing my credibility because a prestigious company like Rolex had shown confidence in my project”. He later won many other honours, including an MBE (Member of the Order of the British Empire) from Queen Elizabeth, an honorary associateship of Britain’s Royal College of Veterinary Surgeons and membership of the New York Academy of Sciences.
His family, principally his son Colin (now Chief Executive of Tiggywinkles), will protect his legacy by continuing his work.
Several leading UK newspapers carried obituaries of Les Stocker, heaping praise on him for his down-to-earth devotion to wild animals, his humility and his innovative methods of wildlife care.
Rebecca Irvin, Head of Philanthropy at Rolex, said: “We were honoured to be able to support Les Stocker and to retain our links with him and his family for over three decades. He possessed all the qualities that define the Rolex Awards: through passion, inventiveness and determination, he developed a major field of work that has made and will continue to make a significant difference to our world.”See more Programme Updates