Saturday, 31 March 2007

Bye-bye Burraneer Henry *sniff*

He's completely trashed the place. There's a large patch of bark he's chewed or scratched off his gunyah; the newspaper on the floor is trampled, and he's kicked over his dirt and water which has intermingled with the bits of chewed off leaf and poop scattered over the floor. It looks like the koala version of a rockstar's hotel room. Did Jim Morrison come back as Morrish Steven?

Cathie Sampson
From koalawrangler's gallery.
Judy is teamleader today and I'm allocated the smaller yards near the ICU block. Lately I'm always doing yard 10, 9 or the aviaries, so I tend to skim past these smaller yards without stopping to smell the roses...er, koalas. It's good to be able to look in on Oxley Westi in yard 1 and Cathie Sampson in yard 3.

I remember the day that Sampson was brought in; he was suffering from acute diarrhoea. It was a Sunday and we had to put him a vacant aviary as there was a full house in ICU. I understand that his current prognosis is poor. You can tell he's an old koala just by looking at him. His face is slightly gaunt in the cheeks, like O'Briens Fiona; but mostly his age shows on his nose, the most prominent part of a koala's face. Sampson's nose shows he's been in the wars; it's scratched like he's foraged around in more than a few bushes in his time, and maybe even had some scraps with other male koalas.


Oxley Westi
From koalawrangler's gallery.
He's quietly sheltered by his leaf pot at one end, so I clear the leaf at the other. Sampson starts moving up the gunyah, tightrope-like, towards me. He stops still and regards me solemnly for a moment. It's then that I notice a tear welling in his right eye. It's a not a tear, really; his eye's just watering for some other physiological reason. Any other interpretation would be anthropomorphism, as Cheyne calls it.

Oxley Westi is is sleeping as I clean around her. It takes me ages to finish sweeping up her copious poop. As I stand up, I notice Peter coming out of the aviaries with a koala in his grasp. It's a small one so I don't recognise him straight away. "Who's that?" "Burraneer Henry" "That's little Henry?!"

Burraneer Henry
Burraneer Henry
From koalawrangler's gallery.
Peter pauses on his path to the treatment room to give me a better look. It's Henry all right. That same angelic little face that none of us could resist photographing incessantly when he first came in back in January. He'd been brought in suffering a tick infestation and was in need of some serious R&R. Henry soon became a minor celebrity, holding court in yard 1A, enjoying the oohs and ahhs of visitors and vollies alike. He even had his picture in the local paper.

He's spend the last several weeks wedged high in the fork of a tree. After being there for all of us to gawp at lovinlgy for so long, these days all we've been treated to has been a glimpse of his furry posterior. Indeed, the only other evidence of his existence is the nibbles to his leaf each morning after his nocturnal munchies. That, and the new littering of poo pellets around his neatly raked yard. Henry's become like the Easter Bunny I remember from my childhood: leaving half-chewed carrots and a trail of easter eggs the morning after, with no sign of the animal in question.

There was a note up on the whiteboard for a while alerting the vollies that if/when Henry made an appearance on his gunyah, he should be captured in preparation for release. This must have occurred yesterday. I follow Henry into ICU like a lovelorn pup. Peter places Henry on the treatment room table to the delight of the onlookers at the viewing window. Cheyne prepares a basket for Henry's transport to his new home. Joeys typically don't have a home range; often joeys that come to the hospital are raised in home care. They usually release joeys in pairs to give them some company, like Links VTR and Ocean Kim.

In Henry's case, he's being released at the wilderness end of Burraneer Avenue where he was found. Barb also looked after Henry at home. Today she expresses her fears for him being a young male own their on his own. As well as the threats of urbanisation, motor vehicle accidents, and dog attacks, male koalas also each other to worry about.

With the outside yards complete, everyone chips in to clean the intensive care units. Judy's doing Jupiter Cheryl, Helen's in with Calwalla Bill, and I start on Morrish Steven's unit. He's completely trashed the place. There's a large patch of bark he's chewed or scratched off his gunyah; the newspaper on the floor is trampled, and he's kicked over his dirt and water which has intermingled with the bits of chewed off leaf and poop all over the floor. It looks like the koala version of a rockstar's hotel room. Did Jim Morrison come back as Morrish Steven?

Steven starts emitting that otherworldly mating noise the males make. His head is raised like he's howling at the moon. He's a feisty one, and a bit grabby. He reaches out towards me in a pushy manner. He's probably after fresh leaf. The koalas are often frisky until they get their morning leaf. Normally I suppose they'd be looking around for new leaf themselves; as patients, they have to wait till the hospital leaf trolley arrives. At least, it's better than human hospital food.

Across the way, Helen is cleaning Calwalla Bill's unit. He's moved off the upper beam of his gunyah onto the cross-beams below it. Helen is just bending to mop the floor, chatting as we all do to our respective koalas, when Bill unexpectedly swipes at her twice with his paw. It all seems to happen in slow motion. Helen pulls back. Luckily, she's only received a few scratches on her face. It wasn't aggression on Bill's part, merely his way of telling someone they're in his personal space. The trouble is he's armed with Edward Scissorhand-type claws. I remember Jules the tour guide telling us that koalas only actively use their claws for gripping trees; if actually were an offensive animal, imagine the damage they could do. Dogs would think twice before attacking them.

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