Sunday, 11 February 2007

The girls of yard 9

My archaic waitressing skills come in handy as I juggle two feeding pots, syringes and face-washers and go to pick up a third.

Bonny Fire
From koalawrangler's gallery.
It's the Sunday arvo shift again and I turn up at about a quarter past 2. Walking in, I can see the back of Ros's head bobbing about out by the clothesline. There are a few tourists littered around the courtyard outside the shop awaiting the 3pm feed.

I walk into the day-room and can hear Joyce's voice issuing from somewhere down in ICU. I look around at the boards and see two new names -- "Tasman Rose", a female, and "Sandfly Jye", a male.

Joyce says I can go and help Ros with the laundry. I start to fold the towels but Ros tells me it's best to leave those for for another lady who's due to come in who doesn't like doing anything that takes her near the koalas. She just folds towels and wets the leaf. I told Ros that for me it's all about the koalas. I endure the grunt work just so I can be near them.


Belah Irwin
From Broken Puzzle's gallery.
Ros takes me into ICU to show me Belah Irwin (named after Steve), one of the joeys from yard 6 who is scheduled for release. Irwin's mother, Belah Frankie, had had to be euthanased so Irwin spent a few weeks with Joyce in home-care. They're keeping him in ICU so that they can monitor him before his release; if he's kept in yard 6 it may be another six weeks before they get him down; the joeys come and go as they please. With Ocean Kim in yard 9a, only two joeys in yard 6 remain.

Lorna arrives but she's happy to head home and back to a book. "One you're writing or reading?", I wittily inquire. This is of course a private joke between me, myself and I (the struggling writer). Still, they think it's amusing. Lorna offers to feed Kempsey Carolina before she leaves to lighten the load a little.

I flick through the day-book and see that several of the koalas I've tended have now been freed: Newport Bridge Gloria, Ellenborough Kelly and O'Briens Fiona. The first two were in the aviaries for a while, and Fiona was in ICU where she used to try out her Houdini act with the door before she was released to an outside yard. It's satisfying when they go free.

Joyce has finished preparing food for the outside yards. There's Innes Wonga on her own in yard 2 and the four girls in yard 9: Ocean Therese, Wiruna Lucky, Bonny Fire and Birthday Girl. Ros takes Innes Wonga, so Joyce and I set off to yard 9. My archaic waitressing skills come in handy as I juggle two feeding pots, syringes and face-washers and go to pick up a third. Joyce won't let me as she thinks I'll drop them. I bow to Joyce's greater wisdom on this matter.

I haven't had much to do with the girls in yard 9; they are like the hospital's national treasures. Now that I know that koalas can be kept in captivity only by exception, I see why these old girls are so precious.

Wiruna Lucky
Wiruna Lucky
From koalawrangler's gallery.

I'm the first to enter the yard and all the girls are still fast asleep. Wiruna Lucky strikes a particularly amusing pose. I place the food and washers on the rack and head off to investigate which sleeping koala is Bonny Fire. I'm told that she has pink on her nose and is smaller than Birthday Girl. Bonny slowly comes to -- all these girls are seasoned feeders and know what's coming. There's no swiping or eeping to worry about.

Bonny Fire
Bonny Fire
From koalawrangler's gallery.
I stand on the highest part of the turf-green platform where I can reach her best and proceed to squirt the syringe into her mouth. It's strangely intimate being that close to her furry face, watching her little front teeth protrude from time to time. You can concentrate on the details of the animal; the brown eyes, the pink speckles on a black nose; the deformity in the claws from the fire she was rescued from. In my mind's eye I alway saw koala's faces as being flat but their jaw actually protrudes outwards in a prominent fashion. Maybe it's the squat lozenge-shaped nose that gives their faces the illusion of flatness.

Bonny Fire, as her name suggests was rescued from a bush fire. With the adult koalas, the males and females are kept separate except that one of the male patients made a covert visit into yard 9 and knocked Bonny up. The resulting bairn was called Bonny Ash, a local competition being carried out to pick a name that would suit this renegade newcomer. She has since been released back into the wild but is frequently adopted in the adopt-a-wild-koala program.

Jules the tour guide is holding court over near yard 9A where the joeys Ocean Kim and Links VTR are now living. They are more of a drawcard than the older girls, especially since dear Cloud has passed away. Birthday Girl is buried deep in her leaf but starts to reach for me once she sees I have food. She feeds through the fork of her gunyah which is useful since it prevents her from clawing me as she clutches for more formula. I'm just getting to the last syringe-ful as Jules realises there's a feed he could be showcasing. I carry on watering her leaf and then head back to the dayroom.

Ros and Joyce are in with Oxley Westi, the tiny koala with the bulging eyes. Both her eyes must have ointment smeared in them morning and night. According to the board, her eyes are listed as "exopthalmous", but this is merely a high-falutin' description, not a diagnosis. They don't know what causes it. I peer into the unit and both Joyce and Ros are on the floor with little Westi, treating her eyes.

I go off and fill a watering can with water and grab a spray bottle so that Ros can wet the leaf and refill the pots quickly and get out of there. The less disruption to the already strung-out koala, the better. When they're done, Joyce emerges with a trickle of blood running down her calf, courtesy of Ms Westi.

Tractive Golfer
Tractive Golfer
From koalawrangler's gallery.
Tractive Golfer, the long-term incumbent of yard 10, is actually down from his tree so Ros heads off to feed him. Ellenborough Kelly and Macquarie Peter (with whom I have a history) both need feeding so I check with Joyce that it's okay to head off there with their pots of formula.

Jules is delighted that the group will get a front-row seat at Peter's feeding. His yard fronts on to the walking path that the tourists tramp along. He's sitting facing forwrd with his slightly rounded belly and huge furry testicles protruding for all to see. Jules has a running joke about how you can tell whether a koala is male of female. Their ears are tagged: left for males; right for females -- because females are "always right". Boom boom. Of course, you can tell quite clearly that this one is a male; his manly accoutrements are hanging out for all to see.

Meanwhile, I'm trying to feed Peter who's not in any hurry to move into a better position for me to do so. I don't want to do it behind the fork as this will obscure the tourists' view. The more they see, the more they are likely to donate money and adopt, which is what keeps the hospital afloat. I finally work out a way of ducking under the fork and feeding him from the front so as not to affect people's photo opportunities. Peter doesn't make it easy as he pauses between syringes to take mouthfuls of leaf. An American voice remarks that he must like salad with his meal.

Ros is feeding Ellenborough Nancy and finishes watering her, Golfer and Links Lorna. We head back to the staff-room and start on ICU. Joyce is mixing up a clear formula for the two new koalas, Tasman Rose and Sandfly Jye. We're not sure what's wrong with them yet as they were only brought in this morning. I've never fed this clear liquid before and can't imagine that it's as enticing as the white milk-like supplement the others get. Joyce says all we can do is try to feed them and see how they go.

I try Sandfly Jye, the male, first. I'm wary of his striking out, so I take it easy, by dragging up a small stool, but not getting too 'in his face'. He lets me come near but grunts when I put the syringe near his mouth and takes off into the leaf for sanctuary. I don't want to push it and risk a swiping. I just water his leaf and leave.

Tasman Rose
Tasman Rose
From koalawrangler's gallery.
I'm not optimistic of having any better success with Tasman Rose next door, but give it a go. She's a placid little girl and I speak gently to her as I put the syringe to her mouth. She's not exactly against the idea, but doesn't take the tip of the syringe in. She does however make a little lapping noise that suggests she's ingesting some of the liquid that comes near her mouth. I ask Joyce what to do and she says it's better to get some in than none. I spend ten minutes gradually squirting the liquid at Rose's mouth; 95% ends up on the ground or on the koala, while 5% makes it into her mouth. I paper over the slops on the floor.

I go and collect the money boxes scattered around the yards so that the lady in the shop can count up today's takings and head home. Then I start washing up the pots in washing up liquid -- well koalas first, followed by sick, before rinsing them and filling each with weak antibacterial disinfectant.

We're about done when the phone rings. It's a lady in Sapphire Drive, Emerald Downs, who has just seen the neighbour's dog chase a koala across the yard. The koala has taken off up a palm tree in the caller's yard. She thinks it may be a joey since it is small. It's apparent that I've got a koala situation on the phone. I look about frantically for a pen and paper as the lady gives me her details. I find the rescue list; there's one in the shop. Barb's name is at the top and I give her a call.

In hindsight, I realise that I should have offered to go with Barb since you really need two people for a rescue. But who knows, maybe the koala didn't need to be rescued. Still, at the very least, it would need to be relocated to a safe location where it can't get attacked by dogs. I don't know what I would do if our dog ever did anything to a koala.

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