Thursday, 1 March 2007

Feeding Fiona, Wonga & Kempsey

Now onto Kempsey. She gives me that searching, sightless look she has when I enter the yard. She's a big drooler; it's almost impossible to feed her without some of it dribbling onto her leaf or onto her.

Siren Gem
From koalawrangler's gallery.
I start my shift as I usually do on a Thursday, by dropping my weekend papers into the paper box at the end of the ICU corridor. I recall this time last week when Amanda and Andrea were racing around trying to capture the prodigal O'Briens Fiona. Amanda asks me to put out the money-boxes. These are four koala-shaped pieces of wood, painted in koala colours, with a coin-slot in its tummy and a padlocked money-box at the back. They are strung up around the inside of the yards for the tourists to make donations in. The other day there were three $50 notes. It tends to be the overseas tourists who make these kind of donations; not Australians, funnily enough. It's probably the exchange rate.

This Thursday morning, there's a new person on shift: Danae, an international volunteer from France. She's going to work closely with Amanda today to learn the ropes. First off, we all join Amanda in the yard outside the leaf shed for a leaf refresher course. She gives us each a branch of recycle leaf from the leaf shed and goes through the leaf basics. The branch stem needs to be as long as the leaf pot and an inch or so more. All the smaller branches and leaves below this level must be stripped or cut off to produce a clear stem.

Tricia has yard 9 to herself today, with a little assistance from Amanda and Danae who are also to do the joeys; Paul, Ashley and Jarrod are in yard 10 and I'm doing the one-koala yards: Innes Wonga, O'Briens Fiona and Kempsey Carolina. Jarrod is also assigned to the near-absent Henry in yard 4.

O'Briens Fiona

There are a few tourists around so I start feeding O'Briens Fiona. I feel familiar with her after the feed on Sunday. She leans out towards me and drinks most of the formula without a problem...until she decides to turn around and wander off down the gunyah into her leaf. I follow her around the gunyah and try to entice her with more formula from a couple of different angles until she finishes the pot and I can start raking her yard.

I always have 'leaf bruises' on my arms these days -- one or two greeny discolorations about the size of a 50c-piece caused by toting heavy branches to and fro. I don't usually feel them digging in, but the bruises are later proof. Right now, I have a massive bruise on my arm above the elbow -- this one from getting in the car awkwardly with bags of shopping and bashing into the doorframe. One of the tourists who was was watching me feed Fiona asks in hushed tones whether it's a "koala bite"! "Oh no", I quickly insist. I've never been bitten nor scratched...but then I haven't had the guts to handle them too much yet. I try to stay out the koalas' ways if at all possible. They would rather be up a tree in the wild than in hospital so they don't want humans all over them.

Next is Innes Wonga in the yard next door. He's been looking over at me feeding Fiona, waiting his turn patiently. He's a simple feed; drinks it all down and goes back to sleep in his leaf. I prepare both Fiona's and Wonga's recycle pots and wash the others in preparation for the new leaf.

Now onto Kempsey. She gives me that searching, sightless look she has when I enter the yard. She's a big drooler; it's almost impossible to feed her without some of it dribbling onto her leaf or onto her. She's used to having her mouth and chin sponged with a wet washer though, unlike the others who tend to pull away like you've slapped them. It's better than leaving the formula to dry on their fur, however, as they don't like that either. Fussy little blighters.

From Kempsey's yard, I notice that Siren Gem is climbing down his tree to the gunyah. I saw some food for him in the dayroom so I call out to Amanda that Gem is down, if she wants to feed him. Amanda has just been helping Andrea with Melaleuca Alfie, the one with the injured genitals. They need to be bathed every day; the less glamorous part of the job, unlike joey-feeding which must surely be the highlight.

Amanda returns with Gem's formula. She gives Danae a go. Everytime Gem starts to suck the formula, he reaches his little paw out to cling onto Danae's hand. The joey syringe is much more slender than the ones we use on the adult koalas. At one point, he's got his little claws around it and is tilting it upwards from his mouth like an old fashioned cigarette-holder.

The aviaries are still yet to be done so we all pitch in. Jarrod's almost finished Oceanview Terry and starts on Bellevue Bill next door. So they managed to catch Bill after his taste of freedom in yard 10. Now he looks sullen slouched on the gunyah in his aviary.

Lookout Harry

I tend to Lookout Harry who always seems to up-end his water and dirt. He eeps a bit when I start to roll up his towel at one end. He settles down when I bring in some fresh leaf. Paul's doing Ellenborough Nancy, which I'm glad about! There's a new koala in the aviaries called Jupiter Cheryl, which brings the number in there to six: more koalas than I've ever seen in that yard. Amanda and Danae clean her aviary and Danae helps Paul with Cathie Samson, the one from Sunday with the diarrhoea. Paul notices a tick inside Samson's ear. He suggests getting Amanda to pull it off, but she thinks it's best to leave it since it's so close to his face and will likely just upset the koala. It will drop off once it's full of blood.

With the aviaries done, I check in with ICU. Ashley and Jackie have them all under control. I tell them I'll mop up the corridor once they're done. Orr Palmerston, a new admission from Sunday, is being moved to an outside yard so his unit only needs fresh leaf; they'll leave the mopping till he's vacated.

I have tea in the dayroom. Amanda is filling in the book with all the details of feeds. I ask her about the name Melaleuca (given to the koala Alfie); she tells me it is a leaf (as well the name of a nearby caravan park). Apparently, it's part of the team-leader's job to check which types of leaf the koalas have eaten overnight so that they can keep a record of the best kind of leaf to get in for them. She shows me a matrix of different varieties and koala names. That's something I haven't grasped yet -- the different leaf varieties -- but it's something I'd like to learn. Amanda wants to train me up as her 2IC so that I would be able to fill in for her as team-leader if she can't come in one Thursday or goes on holidays. This will mean helping with the treatments and getting more familiar with handling the koalas generally. She wants me to shadow her on the next shift so I can do the handling as required and get more comfortable with it. Eek! Or should I say "eep!".

I learn that there's a rescue taking place later. I ask how this can be known in advance. Apparently, there's a bloke with koalas on his land; he wants them removed because they're distracting his cattledogs from their job. If we don't rescue the koalas, he may shoot them.

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