Monday, 19 March 2007

Furry buddha

As I enter, Condon Geoff is seated behind a veil of uneaten Swamp Mahogany and naked leaf fronds looking like a koala version of Buddha. He stares at me beatifically from his verdant mount as I start to rake up his soggy newspaper and the random smattering of poo, like so many spent shell casings.

Oceanview Terry
From koalawrangler's gallery.
I'm doing a Monday shift for the first time; they thought they'd be down on numbers so they called me in. Koalawrangler to the rescue (not). I'm paired with Jarrod to do yards 4, 5, and 6: Burraneer Henry (who I haven't seen on terra firma in quite a while), Kempsey Carolina and the babies (joeys Siren Gem and Lake Christmas [whom I've also never seen other than as a fuzzy blob on high]).

I can't resist popping my head in yard 9 to see if O'Briens Fiona is on the move. As usual, she's scuttling around begging for formula. I ask Geoff if he'd like some made up; I retire to the dayroom and beat up her double-dose of formula. By the time I get to yard 9, she's up a tree again. Fickle Fiona.


Kempsey Carolina
From koalawrangler's gallery.
I set out to feed our Kempsey, the blind permanent resident of yard 5 who never knocks back a feed. She's more dribblepuss than usual today, or maybe I'm just used to feeding koalas these days who are better at keeping it in their mouths. I do everything I can to keep the syringe high in the air, as Amanda first showed me. There's also the little trick of holding the syringe there once it's empty to encourage her to keep swallowing; the minute she lowers her head it all starts to slop out. Drops end up running down her chin, on her fur, on her leaf, on me. I manoeuvre the pot so that it's directly under her chin and this catches some of the run-off. As I fill the syringe, I notice little flecks of green: leaf pulp has mixed itself in with her dribbled formula.

At these close quarters, I find myself looking at Kempsey's eyes. Koala eyes are brown with a black almond-shape set vertically like a cat's. Kempsey's right eye is completely absent; all that remains is a sunken warp in the fur where the eye once was. I remember one of the uni vets telling me that the dead eye is worked out by the body (a case of abjection, if there ever was one); it heals over cleaner than any suture. Kempsey's left eye is intact, but blind. Instead of the almond cat's iris, there is a dun-coloured disc like a brown dilated pupil.

Dribbling aside, Kempsey is a pleasure to feed. She doesn't behave like the other, wild, koalas. She seems to have succumbed readily to her five-star care at the hospital. She accepts back scratches and chin tickles without resistance. Even wiping her face with a wet washer following her feed is a breeze compared to the other patients who usually move their face from side to side to avoid it: imagine the irritated face of a child submitting to having its face wiped by an overzealous mother.

Jarrod has finished in yards 4 and 6, so I duck my head into the aviaries to see if I can lend a hand. There are still three aviaries to do so I elect to clean the non-wet-bottoms, since I'm heading back into the healthy koalas yards again later when the new leaf arrives. Condon Geoff is in an aviary undergoing post-treatment monitoring. It seems that he has been successfully treated and, all going well, will be released soon. I'm especially pleased for him since he was the koala who seemed among the keenest to leave ICU.

Condon Geoff
Oceanview Terry
From koalawrangler's gallery.

As I enter, he's seated behind a veil of uneaten Swamp Mahogany and naked leaf fronds looking like a koala version of Buddha. He stares at me beatifically from his verdant mount as I start to rake up his soggy newspaper and the random smattering of poo, like so many spent shell casings.

I keep out of his way, taking the other leaf pot, emptying it, scrubbing out the leaf scum and refilling it in preparation for the fresh leaf. After the recent rain, the dirt comes up in moist chunks with the trowel. I refill his water bowl and turn to leaf.

Bellevue Bill
Bellevue Bill
From koalawrangler's gallery.

Bellevue Bill gets sight of me from the aviary opposite. He stalks along his gunyah towards me like I have something he's after. Bill gets fed each day by the uni researchers. They're trialling him with some oral medication so perhaps he thinks I might have some tucker for him.

Oceanview Terry
Oceanview Terry
From koalawrangler's gallery.
Next I start on Oceanview Terry. He's down the far end of his gunyah, completely swathed in leaf. He looks like he wants to be alone, so I leave him be and start on his floor. Not having a towel to replace on the gunyah is lot more koala-friendly. You can pretty much keep out of their way. Unexpectedly, Terry decides to break through the leafy veneer and see what I'm up to. He scrambles along the gunyah adeptly like a tightrope walker, restlessly looking for fresh leaf. It must make them anxious, not being able to search out new leaf when they're ready. Still, they get it handed to them on a platter each morning, so that's the next best thing.

I'm crouched on the ground relaying Terry's paper. I look up and he's staring down at me quizzically. I wonder what they make of the daily ablutions we carry out for them. It's a hospital, so they get fresh water, dirt, leaf and floor coverings every day, 365 days a year. I tell him the leaf won't be long now.


Melaleuca
From brokenpuzzle's gallery.
Time for a quick cuppa until Chris comes in and tells us the leaf's ready. He tells anyone who's listening that he's brought in a special lot of melaleuca for Anna Bay Miles. Miles is from Newcastle way, so it's a leaf he particularly likes. Apparently, when they had melaleuca earlier in the week, he wolfed down the bottlebrush-like flowers whole. Anything to build up his strength. I had seen Cheyne feeding him earlier on and mentioned to her that I'd seen him gnawing on his right knee yesterday. She hadn't heard about the behaviour so made a point of noting it down as something to watch for. It could signal some pain in that leg or his teeth.

With the leaf ready to go, we go back to the outside yards. Kempsey is ranging about on her gunyah so I feed her first, followed by the joeys. Next I fill Condon Geoff's empty pot. He gradually moves across to it, but tramples over the old leaf as he goes. I try gingerly to remove the old pot so that I can refill it with new leaf, but he eeps in protest. Okay, be that way. I remove the pot and leave behind the leaf he's sitting on, until he's distracted enough with eating the new leaf for me to whip the old out from under him.

Siren Gem
Siren Gem
From koalawrangler's gallery.
I notice through the fence that Siren Gem is down in yard 6. Yippee! I get to feed him, which I've not done before. I go into the yard and he reaches out to me. He knows I have the potential to provide formula. I nip back to the dayroom and mix it up. He's reaching out for it by the time I get back. In between the syringes, his little tongue bobs in and out. Joeys are so compliant compared to their adult counterparts; having been raised in captivity, they aren't bothered by humans so long as we leave them be...and feed them on demand!

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