Thursday, 22 February 2007

Fiona's great escape

Of all the koalas I've dealt with here I'm convinced Ellenborough Nancy has a personal vendetta against me. I've had miffed expressions and eeps and flicky ears, but Nancy's the only one who's ever taken a full-on swipe.

Bonny Fire
From koalawrangler's gallery.
Well, it's Thursday again, which means it's koala time! Amanda is mixing formula in the staff-room as I walk in. I've brought some newspapers from home so I take them through ICU to the newspaper box.

I'm removing staples from the Good Weekend when Amanda tears past me and grabs a basket. There must be a rescue afoot. Then Andrea dashes through toting a koala-nabbing bag. I walk into the dayroom to see what's happened. An as-yet-unidentified koala is wandering around outside its yard (but still in the main part of the hospital) and Amanda and Andrea have gone off to bag it. It could be a wild koala from outside paying the koalas inside a visit (it' happened before); or it could be an inside koala trying to get out. I greet the smiling pair at the door triumphantly carrying a koalaful bag between them. Amanda is exultant and does a happy dance.

In the treatment room, we discover that the koala has a tag so it's one of ours. There were no koalas missing from any of the yards when Amanda did her rounds this morning. Amanda is finding the koala log books and Andrea asks me to delve into the bag and check the tag number on its ear. I gutlessly decline, saying I'm not yet experienced with hand-to-hand koala-wrangling. But I conjecture that it could be O'Briens Fiona, of Fiona Houdini fame. Amanda is certain that she saw a koala in yard 2 (Fiona's yard) not half an hour ago. When Fiona was brought back in during the week, she'd been rehoused in yard 2 which is the corner yard. They'd deliberately avoided putting her in that yard previously when she was released from ICU since she was an obvious flight risk. Amanda and I are scouring the log books for no.736 and BINGO! It's that wiley O'Briens Fiona after all. Andrea and Amanda decide to keep her in a rescue basket for the time-being until they decide what to do with her. I'm wondering when she's going to escape from a straitjacket and handcuffs while housed in a padlocked box underwater, like I saw Tony Curtis do in a movie once.

I've been allocated the "girls" of yard 9 with Tricia, a bubbly woman whom I remember tending lovingly to Cloud when she was ICU, way back on my first shift. We start the feeding first. Tricia takes Bonny Fire; Wiruna Lucky is ensconsed up a tree. I tend to Birthday Girl who feeds quickly and easily. She's currently sharing her gunyah with a kookaburra who's stopped by.

Tricia is having some trouble with Bonny who keeps wandering off during feeding. I look around in time to see Bonny scamper awkwardly up the wooden beam that connects the gunyah to the nearest tree which currently houses Lucky Wiruna. She then obviously decides better of it and backs her way back down for more food. Bonny isn't keeping up with the rate the formula's being squirted in so it starts to dribble down her chin. White droplets bespeckle her front and hind paws, sitting on on top of her springy fur like dew.

There's an extended T-shaped gunyah in yard 9 as well as a stand-alone gunyah that Birthday Girl generally calls home. This means lots of poop-raking and scooping. Tricia is dealing with yesterday's recycled leaf and watering their water dishes. I look over towards yard 6, the joey yard, and there's Siren Gem perched atop her roof like a cherry on an icecream. He's on his own now, since naughty Woody was released. The word in the yard is that he's not gaining weight as readily as the staff would like. He's probably traumatised after the bullying he copped from the other joey, Lady Nelson Woody. Oh well, enough star-struck joey-adoration: there's plenty of work to do here.

Siren Gem
Siren Gem
From koalawrangler's gallery.
There are seven leaf pots in this yard. Back in the day-room, Cheyne and Amanda agreed that we should reduce the girls' supply to two bundles of fresh leaf (divided into four pots) and two pots of recycled (that is, yesterday's) leaf. As there's only one leaf rack in yard 9, I head out to find another rack I can use for cutting up my bundle. Just before I do, there's a splashing sound; I turn and half expect to see a koala washing its face in a water trough. No, it's a magpie that's dunked itself in the freshly filled water. It's fluttering its wings and sloshing water everywhere like it's in a wading pool.

There's also yard 9a to do. That's the small, circular yard that occupies one corner of yard 9 and houses the babies Links VTR and Ocean Kim. Kimmy is wrapped around the tree while Links is predictably down on his gunyah, nestled in leaf. Then, to my delight, Linksy starts climbing. He gets as far as Kimmy so that at one point they're both wrapped around the same bit of tree, but on opposite sides, circumscribing the trunk with their paws. Then Links keeps climbing! He settles in a spot above Kimmy, the highest I've seen him go. Not to be outdone, however, Kim moves past him and Links returns to the lower branches, his excitement over for one day. This is exciting since Links hardly ever climbs since he fell from the tree in the joey yard.

After yard 9, Amanda suggests I help Jarrod in the aviaries. He's just about finished Oceanview Terry and is about to start on Oxley Jo. Jo is the baby-faced one who stared at me the whole time I cleaned her aviary last time; the vet staff were worried that she wasn't eating her leaf, but judging by the amount of poo on the ground she's eating well.

Oxley Jo
Oxley Jo
From koalawrangler's gallery.
With Terry and Jo being done, this leaves Lookout Harry and...ulp...Ellenborough Nancy, the headcase. Of all the koalas I've dealt with here I'm convinced this one has a personal vendetta against me. I've had miffed expressions and eeps and flicky ears, but Nancy's the only one who's ever taken a full-on swipe. She always regards me with what looks like menace. (Although since her conjunctivitus is improving, she doesn't look quite as grumpy as before). Cheyne, the hospital supervisor, says we shouldn't 'project' human feelings onto the koalas (because they're probably wrong), but I can't help it with this one.

Even Lookout Harry is demonstrating fruitloop behaviour, climbing the mesh walls of his aviary and stalking about his cage like, well, a caged animal. Hmm, knew that metaphor came from somewhere. He's overturned his water bowl and his dirt bowl, coating his floor in a muddy sludge. I grab some of last night's unused leaf, dampen it down and add it to his pot to calm him down.

With Bill preoccupied, I decide to do Nancy's aviary first to get it out of the way. Nancy is on the ground when I enter. In some ways, this is good since it means that her gunyah is free to retowel. In other ways, this is bad since you're in an enclosed space with a slightly crazy animal pacing the floor. In fact, as soon as I unravel the towel, she grabs it using what looks like a ninja move -- all scissoring paws (and, I embellish, gnashing teeth). I decide she can have that towel if she wants it. I toss the towel towards her and she continues to claw at it. I quickly try to cut the string holding the old towel onto the gunyah and replace it with the new towel. This means I still need another towel (one's not long enough, you always need two). Nancy has one and she's not about to give it up. So back to ICU for another towel.

When I return, Nancy is at the door -- in fact, she's attached to the door. There's no way I'm going in there. I decide to finish off Lookout Harry's aviary while Nancy calms down. He's chewing away at the bit of leaf I gave him and taking no notice of me as I rake up his sodden newsprint. He's a wet bottom too so I have to cut and replace his towel. I do my trick of preparing his fresh leaf first so I can coax him towards the newly towelled end. All goes well. Now back to scary Nancy.

She's still at the door as though forbidding me entry. I do a few other chores, like take the leaf pin out to the skip to empty it, before returning to see if Nancy's backed off (literally). Yes, another metaphor in the flesh. Fortunately she's on her gunyah. I assuage her grumpiness with fresh leaf and finish tying her towel. What a relief.

Most people are finished their work now. I have a green tea with Amanda and Jarrad then go and mop down the floor in ICU. Bellevue Bill who was previously in unit 1 but relocated to yard 10 is now back in unit 1. There's a little whiteboard sign outside his unit which usually indicates the patient's name and diagnosis; instead it reads: Bellevue Bill: A very naughty boy. It seems that Bill escaped his outside own yard, made his way through the adjacent yard and then found his way into the neighbouring yard belonging to poor skittish little Links Lorna. I can imagine the prim and proper Miss Lorna eeping in outrage at the prospect of a brutish man-koala breaking into her room!

Birthday Bill is a very naughty boy!

Amanda has a group of elderly ladies to show around the hospital so she asks me to wash up the feeding pots. Afterwards I make a final check of O'Briens Fiona who's been allocated to an inside yard, yard 1. She's fast asleep, no doubt plotting her next escape attempt in her eucalyptus-fuelled dreams.

Click here to view more of today's koala hospital photos.