Friday, 2 February 2007

Joeyfest: Links VTR & Ocean Kim

I murmur my little cajoling words -- "possum", "sausage", "precious pie" -- to persuade Links VTR that I'm not trying to blast him off the gunyah with a hose.

Ocean Kim & Barb
From koalawrangler's gallery.
Back on the Friday shift, I walk into the day-room and greet Peter. Barb strolls in casually, a joey clinging to her shoulder like a human baby. It's Ocean Kim who's been having tick trouble lately and has been doing a shift in ICU. You can tell Barb has mothered a few joeys -- the way she walks about the room with Kim cradled comfortably in her arms testifies to years of koala-whispering. She's one of the handlers who does joey home-care. A dirty job but someone's got to do it.

Barb is gently berating Kim for naughtily trying to climb up onto her roof. There's been some changes. Burraneer Henry has moved in with the other joey, Links VTR, in yard 4. Earlier, Ocean Kim had been transferred from ICU to Burraneer Henry's old spot, yard 1A, the joey showcase; but Barb has just found her scaling the tarp and there are fears she might try to escape. She's (supposedly) one of the wild joeys and is used to hanging out in the high trees, regally surveying her audience whenever one gathers beneath her.

Barb sits at the dayroom table and feeds Kim with a syringe. She jokes to Cheyne that she should really be paddling Kim's bottom for being such a naughty koala, but instead she's apparently rewarding such behaviour with a feed of formula. (By the way, I'm certain Barb would no sooner paddle a joey's bottom than cut her own arm off.)

I decide that I could stand by and gush at little Kim all day, but I really should begin my duties. I'm assigned all the joeys today. No feeding unfortunately, but I still get to see them at close-range. Anne says, "so, you've got all the orphans today?". Links is now sharing with Henry, who is barely visible at the top of the yard's gum tree. Barb has already replaced Links' recycled leaf with a bunch of Nicholli -- she knows their favourite leaf, just a like a mother would.

I haven't really done a yard before on my own, other than the joeys. I'm usually in the aviaries or ICU. I rake around the perimeter and refresh Links' water bowl. Barb emerges still cuddling little Ocean Kim. She's decided that Kim, Links and Henry can share this yard for the time being. Links is munching on the new nichollii leaf as Barb deposits Kim onto the gunyah. Links reaches his paw out and touches Kim as she climbs aboard. They then move together and kiss noses as we stand around gushing at this precious display. They start to share the leaf until Kim wanders off to the end of the gunyah that connects with the yard's tree. Then she's gone -- bounding up to the highest branches. The tree is forked at the top -- Henry is ensconced on the right fork and Kim on the other.

Ocean Kim joins Links VTR
From koalawrangler's gallery.
Anne is making ready the yard nextdoor for O'Briens Fiona, otherwise known as Fiona Houdini, the wiley escape artist. She's moving Wonga Innes to the yard closest to the exit -- they didn't want to put Fiona there since naturally she will be looking for any way to escape outside the yards. This way, if she does get out, it will be into another yard. Anne tells me a little about Links VTR's background. He used to be in yard 6 with the other joeys, but he fell from a tree during a storm and hurt his nose. Links' nose is disfigured after his tree-freefall. Apparently Cheyne used to have to mop his little schnoz every day. It now sports an indentation since it's partly hollow. Links VTR isn't interested in climbing since his accident. It was hoped that the other joey might set a good example for Linksy, but he remains on the gunyah, even climbing down to just above the ground where he can keep a better eye on me.

Links VTR
From koalawrangler's gallery.
I do recall Links being much friskier when Anna was here though. I was servicing Kempsey Carolina's yard next door and kept seeing Links darting up the beam that connects his gunyah to the tree. He'd scramble up the beam and then onto the tree only to shimmy down to the ground again. The handlers put soft bags at the bottom of the tree to break his fall should he take another tumble. I remember watching him scale his way to the ground only to sit there for a while, as though he wasn't sure what to do next.

Leaf bundles
From koalawrangler's gallery.
The leaf man is still sorting the leaf so I check with Anne if it's okay to start on the joeys (since one of the koala kommandments is to finish one yard before proceeding to the next). There is a huge kookaburra in the yard; I've seen them before in yard 6, so there must be something there they like to eat (hopefully not koala). There are no joeys to be seen -- they must be up high. They have four pots of leaf for the three of them. I do a good rake around their yard -- you're not supposed to do more than a rake's-width perimeter, but there is koala poop everywhere so I reckon a more thorough sweep can't hurt just this once. I empty the dried leaf and poop in a bucket and look in on Ellenborough Nancy (the extra-wild koala from yesterday who swiped at me). She looks so sad with her weepy left eye. She's much quieter today though, perhaps the towels Peter hung up yesterday have calmed her.

I start preparing the joeys' leaf -- like growing children, they make short work of their leaf each day, and leave their leftovers in a messy state. The branches are all broken and bent like they've been trampled. I separate their new bundle into three and refill the recycled pot with leaf from yesterday. Links must be famished because he leans towards me as I bring the new leaf in. He gets stuck into it straight away, which makes it a little hard to hose the leaf down without wetting him as well. Apparently, koalas don't like getting wet very much. I murmur my little cajoling words -- "possum", "sausage", "precious pie" -- to persuade Links that I'm not trying to blast him off the gunyah with a hose. Barb has also put aside a special branch of Nicholli for Links, Henry and Kim. Their pots are almost bursting so I share a bit of their leaf with the other joeys.

With all the orphans attended to, I check with Barb what needs doing next. I had seen Jo leaving the aviaries with a bagged koala earlier and I have half a mind to suggest that I work on the aviaries, especially if one is in the treatment room; it's far easier to clean a koala's aviary when they're not in residence. It's so crowded in there with human/leaf/koala all competing for space. But I don't, since I prefer working in ICU anyway and Barb says I can continue in there. There are a bunch of new koalas -- Belleview Bill and Ocean Roy. The vets had to treat Condon Geoff, the climber from yesterday, but they left him in the transporting box while his unit is being cleaned by Judy -- he's too much of a flight risk!

I start on Warrego Martin's unit, where I can see my own handiwork from yesterday. He's docile and welcoming as ever. I go off to prepare his leaf first so that I can make a presto-chango swap when it comes time to do the towels. My plan works like a charm again -- remove leaf at end without koala and replace towel there; replenish that end with new leaf to coax koala away from dirty towel end and so focus on that end. All the while, Martin is still peeing and pooping so it's a good thing that I leave the clearing of the newpaper until last. There is a tonne of poop in his unit so he's obviously eating a lot; I can hear him chomping on his leaf. It's a such a satisfying sound hearing an animal 'happy' (if that's not projecting too much). Well, helping to meet its basic needs anyway.

After Martin, I start to empty the old leaf into the leaf skip. As you can imagine, there is a lot of leaf to be disposed of in a given day. Every day. Old leaf is first chucked on the ground (as you are working to complete a yard), then it is turfed into a green wheelie bin with the front cut out of it. This is then wheeled to the leaf skip and said leaf hurled into it. The leaf gatherer empties the skip after his leaf collection each morning. Sometimes this means there are two wheelie-bins full of leaf sitting where the skip used to be as well as piles and piles of loose leaf lying where they've been chucked (in the absence of the skip).

Today, the skip's newly emptied and I'm hurling bundles of old leaf into the top of it and thinking how much I used to hate gardening as a kid. Ivy day was the worst. The house I grew up in was literally choked in heavy ivy; the kind with white leaves with green splotches. It grew on the patio railings that surrounded the entire house. Once a year or so, Dad would crank up the chainsaw and hack the ivy back to the bare roots and we kids were enlisted as labour. This consisted of emptying the patio of its towering piles of leaf and branches and depositing the piles into green garbage bags. I remember telling my brother one year that I had a cold so I couldn't bend over to pick up the leaf since it would make my nose run. I've been thinking obout that ivy-clearing today and how much that felt like hollow work; whereas, schlepping the old koala leaf is something I approach with vigour. I find myself returning to this theme often: some activity that I usually dislike is transformed into earthy, soulful work when it is being done for the good of the koalas. Either that or I've just grown up a bit.

I start to help Barb hang out the towels that have just come out of the washing machine, but she orders me inside to have a cup of tea. There may be koalas to attend to but the tea-break is sacrosanct. Carol, who looks after fundraising is laying out mugs as Barb cuts up a custard-filled tea cake. I tell her I may be able to get a mobile phone donated to us that I thought we could auction off at the upcoming open-day in April. She's thrilled by the idea. Cheyne is also going to collect poop in a jar and count the number of "nuggets" (Geoff's term). People can then pay to guess how many bits of koala poop are in the poop jar.

Jo starts to talk about some of the patients. That little lamb Oxley Jo isn't eating her leaf. No! I don't know what that will mean. I ask Jo about her research work. She is doing research on koala disease. I want to ask her if they use the same drugs to treat koala Chlamydia as is used on humans, but the conversation turns to Cloud and the article that appeared on her in the Port Macquarie News on Wednesday. Jules is in and he tells us that Cloud also has an obituary in today's paper.

I go out to check on how O'Briens Fiona is settling in. She's not on her gunyah or anywhere else to be seen. Finally I see her in the corner of her yard. She's snuffling about on the ground, then stands on her hind legs against the fence. She's probably trying to work out how to escape. Fiona Houdini, the master, in action.

Anne asks me to clear up Bonny Jude's yard. He's been released today so the yard needs to be fully emptied of leaf etc. I scrub the pots and turn them upside down in their holders to indicate the yard is ready for re-use. I notice Judy carrying a bagged koala towards the aviaries. I tell her I'll help by opening the cage door. It's eepy Links Lorna. Both her wrists are bandaged where they've taken blood. Fortunately, there are canulas in to make drawing the blood they need for analysis less traumatic. It's part of the research to gauge how much of the drug is making it into their bloodstreams. I remember Warrego Martin's wrists were like that when I first met him.

I stop at Oxley Jo's aviary and tell her I want her to start eating her leaf. Perhaps we're just not giving her the variety she likes? Koalas definitely have their favourite kinds; I notice that when I'm discarding the already-munched on leaf taht it is usually the same kind. They leave the other varieties that they're less keen on. Oxley Jo looks at me intently like she half expects me to throw her in a bag. Like I'd do that :)

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