Friday, 16 February 2007

Joeyz in da hood

We all stare up at the squabbling joeys like it's a sort of punch-and-judy show with live fluffy handpuppets.

Wiruna Lucky
From koalawrangler's gallery.
After having lunch at home with D___, I head back to the koala hospital. I'm a bit tired now. Although, I'm not getting as dog-tired as I did when I first started koala-wrangling back in the day, the mornings are still fatiguing. I'm wearing the same dirt-stained clothes. There are muddy smears up my legs and dirt in the creases of my elbow. I hung my smock over my car seat so at least that's dry.

Wendy is mixing formula. Gwen, the usual team-leader, will be in later. There seems to be quite a few helpers here -- Geoff, Erin the animal science student from the morning shift, Mary from Sundays, Yasmin from Thursdays, and a few others. On Sunday arvo there were only three of us so this seems like a host of thousands by comparison. I ask if I'm superfluous (because I feel like I'd be quite happy to go home and put my feet up at this point), but I'm assured that there'll be plenty for me to do.

I get started on the towels from this morning. They're almost dry but not quite. Wendy has been giving them a quick 'burst' in the dryer to dry them off. Erin is wandering about so I ask her to help me with the washing. Suddenly we hear a commotion in yard 6. The two joeys are not only wide awake (instead of slouched in their trees), they are scampering about the roof of their shelter. I recognise Siren Gem as the one without the ear-tag. The other tagged male is Lady Nelson Woody. At first it seems like they're playing, but then it becomes clear that it's more rough-housing than playing and it's quite one-sided. Gem is sitting at the edge of the roof while Woody is biting at his ear and thwacking him intermittently with his paw. I start calling out (like they'd listen to me...), "hey, that's a bit rough; that's not nice!".

Siren Gem & Lady Nelson Woody
Siren Gem and Lady Nelson Woody
From koalawrangler's gallery.

A crowd is forming outside the yards' wire fence as the tourists wait for the 3pm tour; but the handlers are all standing and gawping at the joeys' shenanigans. Suddenly, Woody stops the attack, turns tail and bounds away to the tree like a rabbit; he scrambles up the tree, looks down for moment then leaps to the roof like he's a sugarglider. He repeats the same process again. Down the tree, over to Gem, whom he gives a bite, a wack and a scratch, then bounds off up the tree. His movements are spritely like a puppy (yes, he's run the gamut of Noah's ark in all of 10 seconds); I'm so used to seeing them wedged in their tree branches unmoving. But I try not to be taken in by his cuteness. Poor Gem is eeping in protest but not fighting back. He just sits still, cornered, awaiting the next onslaught. I decide to take matters into my own hands and race off to get Geoff.

Geoff takes the joey bullying seriously and tears off after me. We all stare up at the squabbling joeys like it's a sort of punch-and-judy show with live fluffy handpuppets. Finally, the joeys separate -- Woody heads east and Gem west. Gem climbs as far out as he can, as far away from Woody as possible. He's hooking his paws and swinging around the slender leafy branch tips in a way that resembles a monkey. He's right at the end of the branch overhanging yard 9 and for a minute we worry that he might fall in. Fortunately, he settles down and reclaims his branch. Geoff says this sort of thing would go on if they were in the wild, where there would be nothing we could do about it. However, in this situation, Woody is a healthy joey who's been fattening up in the koala Club Med for the last few weeks; they're just waiting till he's big enough to release. Gem, on the other hand, is still in R&R.

Woody's been in that yard for at least as long as I've been working at the hospital so he's obviously king joey in da hood. Plus, he's just lost his posse, with Irwin and Lucky being released and Kimmy being reassigned to yard 9A. I'm determined to let Barb or Judy know so they can think about moving the two bully-boys (Burraneer Henry and Woody) in together and leaving Gem to recuperate in peace.

The shift hasn't even really begun and already there's been so much excitement. I start off in yard 9 with Yasmin. I wake Bonny Fire and try to feed her. Unfortunately she's facing towards Birthday Girl who's coming to and looking interested in Bonny's formula. I try to get her to face the other way, towards the tourists but no luck. She keeps stopping her feeding to eat leaf so it takes forever. Yasmin finishes Wiruna Lucky and starts on Birthday Girl. I water the leaf on all the gunyahs then head to the ICU.

Not much needs to be done in there. Cheyne has taken Oxley Westi home for the weekend. An veterinary opthalmologist came in to look at Westi's eyes. Fortunately, he decided that the cream they'd been applying had resulted in some improvement. He recommended continuing with it, but three times a day, which Cheyne said she'd do at home. Westi's unit just needs to be carefully swept. There's a lot of poop on top of the paper. Bellevue Bill also needs to be fed. I ask Erin which she'd rather do; she can't decide.

I go in to feed Bill but he is heartily chewing away at his leaf. I don't want to discourage this as they need to keep their strength up with leaf. I notice that there is a formula pot with his name on it on the window sill. This is obviously from this morning's unsuccessful attempt. I also notice that there is a longish pink thing poking down from his fur. It's his penis! I remember learning on my very first shift that koalas have a freaky bifurcated penis, but this is the first time I've seen one. The top is two-pronged like a serpent's tongue. This warrants some internet investigation, I feel.(What must the Google people think when they get the search query 'koala penis'?).

That night at home, D___ and I are watching 24. I generally ask a lot of rhetorical questions (ie criticisms) during the show, or give a running commentary. Tonight I wonder out loud: "why do they spend so much time on the petty work grievances between the staff in ICU?".

D___ sighs. "It's CTU, not ICU. You have ICU at the koala hospital."

Oh, yeah.

I'm accused of having 'koala brain'. Maybe I won't do back-to-back shifts again.

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