Thursday, 15 March 2007

Et tu, koalawrangler?

When I return to Sandfly Jye to continue fixing his leaf, he's on the ground. Nothing strange about that, except as soon as he sees me, he bolts straight towards me. What is it with stampeding koalas today? Could it be the Ides of March?

Sandfly Jye
From koalawrangler's gallery.
Amanda has assigned her and me to yard 10, along with John, the inside vollie who's now working at the koala-face. John and I head up to yard 10, feed pots in hand. Jo is just departing after doing her poop and leaf rounds. I explain to John the all-important rule always to wait until a uni researcher has given the all-clear in yard 10, ICU or the aviaries.

Tractive is up a tree, but Therese is down so John starts feeding her. There are a number of new residents in yard 10 since I was last here. Lookout Harry from the aviaries has moved into Macquarie Peter's old unit. Sandfly Jye, the piggy-nosed koala whose intensive care unit I mopped out last Thursday, is next to Warrego Martin. Ocean Roy is coming up from ICU so we're to set up a new unit on the other side of Jye. Tozer Tom has been moved back into ICU pending release.

I put out the collection boxes earlier, but wasn't sure that I'd put them in the best places. Amanda suggests one of the boxes from yard 9 should come up to yard 10. I head down there to retrieve it and see that the vollies there are feeding two of the koalas. One of them pleads with me to feed O'Briens Fiona. I go to ask where she is, when I see her on the ground at one of the girls' feet. The other koalas have been fed ahead of her and she's not pleased. I pick up her feed pot and she bounds towards me like a puppy...a puppy with huge, curved talon-like claws... I've fed her before, but only ever on a gunyah; this ground thing is new. She's so pushy. I crouch down and start gently syphoning the formula into her mouth, but she keeps flailing her arms towards me. It's not enough that the syringe is in her mouth; she's got to be holding onto something. It makes sense: when they eat, they are usually yanking leaf towards them, or at least holding onto a tree.

One flailing arm finally finds purchase in my bare forearm. She's not clawing to hurt me, so I'm not worried; he just wants me in her grip. To her, I'm basically a food supply. The claws don't draw blood; only pinch a little. The main trouble is that it's my feeding arm and I need to keep refilling the syringe. I get one of the ladies to hold the feed pot while I lean into Fiona to release her grip. The claws don't retract so the only way to pull free is not to pull, but to push gently towards them. I dash into the ICU, grab a towel and return. Fiona has ambled off and is harrassing another vollie. I draw her over with the syringe and, with a towel now covering my arm, continue to feed her. She is insistent about the food, like she's famished. Once it's gone, however, she bounds off up a tree and is gone. Eats, shoots and leaves.

Links Lorna
Links Lorna
From koalawrangler's gallery.

I return to yard 10 with the collection box and make my apologies to Amanda. I head down to start on Links Lorna who looks remarkably relaxed, nestled in her leaf like a furry cabbage. She squints at me dozily, and doesn't even eep at me once. I rake around her yard, replace her water, and then empty the leaf at the other end of the gunyah. Next, I start on Sandfly Jye. He has such an unique little face with is always-flared nostrils framed in pink. He sits calmly on his gunyah without a peep.

Uni vet Jo arrives to do her medicating rounds. This time she's armed with a towel-covered stick to distract Oxley Jo. The stick ups the ante from simply having a madwoman yelling standing in front of Oxley Jo yelling "la la la"; Jo now needs instrumental distraction. When I return to Sandfly Jye to continue fixing his leaf, he's on the ground. Nothing strange about that, except as soon as he sees me, he bolts straight towards me. What is it with stampeding koalas today? First Fiona now Jye. Could it be the Ides of March? Snagglepus-like, I exit stage left, grabbing the rake off the ground just in time to put between Jye and myself. I'm certain that if I don't, he may climb me!

As I rush out of the yard with Jye in hot pursuit, Jo and Amanda are heading my way and explain Jye's behaviour. Jo has to give him some oral medication, so she decides it's best to bag him and plant him on the leaf rack to administer it. Amanda tells Jo that I'm trying to get experience handling the koalas. Jo waves the bag at me and I open the gate like it's a lion's den.

Jo gives me some pointers. You can't be tentative: you throw the bag over confidently and follow through. It's the quick and the dead in the fast-paced world of koala-bagging. Tentative is exactly how I feel. Jye is back on his gunyah now. Under Jo's guidance, I fling the bag over his head. The complication is that they're never just sitting there; they're firmly gripping a fork of wood. So this goes in the bag too and the koala is not about to let go. Instead, the koala is doing everything it can to nose its way out of the bag. Furthermore, with the bag over the koala, you lose track of which bit of the koala is where. Jo is giving me instructions like "grab his wrists" and most of it is going in one ear and out the other. Somehow, finally, it's done. One koala, bagged.

Ocean Roy arrives from ICU and is plonked in his new yard. He appears to like his umbrella. I carry on cleaning Jye's yard while he's otherwise occupied on the leaf rack. If a koala needs to be fed and they're not very used to feeding, it's easier to bag them and then only let the head of the koala out of the bag to feed. They tend to take the formula uncomplainingly in that position. Jo has to take another koala back to the treatment room and suggests I give the bagging a go. It's Lookout Harry this time. He's up high on his perch and have trouble with this one, although it all works in the end, with Jo's help. Jo says you get the hang of it after you've bagged 20 or so koalas...

Sandfly Jye & Amanda
Amanda & Sandfly Jye
From koalawrangler's gallery.

Even after his feed, Jye still won't stop chasing me around his yard. He starts running and then I start running, and then pretty soon we're doing laps around his gunyah. Amanda is next door and keeps saying "just crouch down, he won't do anything and he'll stop running". I find this hard to believe so she comes in and demonstrates. Sure enough, as soon as she crouches down, Jye comes to a halt and just sits and looks in front of her. It's just not what I expected to happen. Amanda looks so at ease, you can tell she's been doing this for three years.

Tractive Golfer
Tractive Golfer
From koalawrangler's gallery.

Just as John is preparing Lookout Harry's leaf, I see Tractive Golfer backing down his tree. He shambles over towards us and predictably starts chewing on the leaf overhanging the leaf rack. He even climbs a leg of the leaf rack and noses around the under the leaf from there. Using a branch as a lure, I draw Golfer away towards his own leaf. It's a tried-and-true method I was Yasmin use so successfully in the past. He follows happily enough and settles onto his gunyah for a good feed.

The new leaf arrives and we start to replenish the pots. Links Lorna, formerly so calm, decides she's not giving up her leafy cushioning without a peep or two. I gently try to dislodge her from her spot and she eeps her disgruntlement. Amanda has given me a little more formula to feed Sandfly Jye. We reckon he might still be a bit hungry since some of his mixture spilt while he was being fed on the leaf rack. I also saw him sitting on the ground of his yard, which made me think Imight have tuckered him out. He's interested in the food for a while as I dribble it into his mouth; then he starts moving his head away.

Back in the day-room, I flick through the post-mortem reports. I see that it was necessary to euthanase poor Crestwood Dampier, the adult male that Barb was looking after. It was determined that his lack of movement in the hindquarters was actually paralysis. He wouldn't have stood a chance of surviving in the wild. It was more humane to send him to that great gumtree in the sky.

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