Sunday, 1 April 2007

Joey paparazzi

I can't watch this precarious manoeuvring. It looks so unsteady, yet it's really no different to how a koala behaves in a tree, a fluffy ball swinging from branch to branch like monkey. Waggling his bottom from side to side, he reaches the other edge of the roof and returns safely to his gunyah. I feel like I've just watched a private performance of Koala du Soleil.
Koala sign on Pacific Drive
Koala sign on Pacific Drive
From koalawrangler's gallery.

It's a gorgeous day today in koalaville, unlike this time last week when the koalas and the koalawranglers all ended up like a drowned rats. It's the Ironman Triathlon today so my road's closed. This means walking 25 minutes to where I parked my car last night. It's a beautiful day for a walk so I don't mind.

There are two new bods at the hospital today: Scottish Chris and American Tracy, international vollies newly arrived from Scotland. It's a good thing they're here as we're down a couple of people. They're trailing after John in the aviaries, learning the ropes. The fewer numbers means I've got Cathie Sampson, Oxley Westi, Kempsey Carolina and the joeys in yard 6. Only Kempsey gets fed, so I begin with her. She defies the recent feeding refresher training we had: she keeps moving the syringe to the front of her mouth where she can get a hold of it with her teeth. I manoeuvre in out of the way to prevent her fanging it too much and snapping off the tip. There's minimal spillage today. Tracy comes into the yard to feel how soft Kempsey's fur is. Like Ocean Therese, Kempsey condones a good pat and a scratch; something you wouldn't want to try on the more koala-like koalas, say, Ellenborough Nancy or Calwalla Bill.


Links VTR
From koalawrangler's gallery.
As I'm trimming Kempsey's recycled leaf, Chris (one of the leaf-collectors) pops by. He asks if Kempsey liked the <insert exotic leaf name here> he got her yesterday. It was something like a spotty, lemon-scented, stringy-barked peppermint gum...either way, it made me realise how truly narrow my leafing skills are. Chris speaks 'leaf' fluently, while for me it's still a second language.

John takes Chris and Tracy into the joeys' yard, probably to show them the routine in a regular yard, before they get stuck into the aviaries. I see that Emma has arrived and pop into yard 9 to say hi. She's feeding Lucky Wiruna. I go and check on the babies. Links VTR is on his gunyah but scales down to greet me, peering up at me at the gate. "Leaf please!".

Cathie Sampson
Cathie Sampson
From koalawrangler's gallery.

Over in Cathie Sampson's yard, he's surprisingly frisky. He makes his way down to his gunyah's cross-beams and jumps to the ground as I'm scrubbing out one of his leaf pots. He's not like O'Briens Fiona who comes begging for formula, or like Sandfly Jye who'll chase you round the yard. He's just snuffling around the yard because he's unable to locate fresh leaf. He pauses to look up at me, does a perimeter check, then returns to his gunyah. But he doesn't stop there: he climbs one of the inner supports of his shelter out to its far edge, shimmying horizontally, while backwards and upside down. I can't watch this precarious manoeuvring. It looks so unsteady, yet it's really no different to how a koala behaves in a tree, a fluffy ball swinging from branch to branch like monkey. You'd also never believe that fragile tree forks could support them at 60 metres, but they do. Waggling his bottom from side to side, he reaches the other edge of the roof and returns safely to his gunyah. I feel like I've just watched a private performance of Koala du Soleil.

Oxley Westi
Oxley Westi
From koalawrangler's gallery.
I decide to get Sampson his leaf first, before Kempsey, and even before I clean Oxley Westi's yard. Anything to keep Sampson gunyah-bound. Westi is also mobile. I see a fuzzy blur out of the corner of my eye as I pass through her yard with Sampson's wet leaf. She doesn't make for the gate though. I quickly rake up Westi's prodigious scattering of poop, cut her leaf and return to Kempsey. Both girls have been waiting patiently. I also cut leaf for the joeys before ducking my head into the aviaries. Barb's hubby, Geoff tugs on the back of my smock as he passes me at the leaf rack: "you're supposed to wet the leaf", referring to how wet and muddy my smock is. It's a gift.

There is a new occupant in the aviaries, FiFi Houdini, otherwise known as O'Briens Fiona. She didn't last three days in the yard 10 enclosure. Ocean Therese wasn't a calming enough influence on her: Fiona kept making her way into the main part of yard 10 (and making off with Tractive Golfer's leaf). To prevent her hurting herself or escaping the hospital altogether, she's now been placed in an aviary. She's being "dehumanised", so no handling or formula; hopefully, she'll be released soon. We're terribly fond of her though; her wiley ways and delightfully pushy personality have made her a favourite. I remember when I first encountered her back in ICU. The FiFi Houdini paw-hooking manoeuvre has not changed:

Exhibit AExhibit B
O'Briens FionaO'Briens Fiona
ICU: 25 JanAviaries: 1 April

She's still getting the best of care. Once I prepare her new leaf, she returns to her gunyah and settles in for a feed. I notice a shiny, round object at the far corner of her aviary amongst the poo pellets. As I suspect, it's a nice full tick. I pocket it to process later. Tracy is standing outside Ellenborough Nancy's aviary while John cleans it. With macabre delight, I call her over to reveal my find. It's a part of koalawrangling you just have to get used to. Her reactions are just as mine were when I first encountered a well-indulged tick: squeamish discomfort.

Together we consider it in my palm; its struggling legs indicating it's still alive after vampirically feasting on poor little O'Briens Fiona. I return the wriggling thing to my pocket and finish sweeping her poop and laying down paper. She's settled back in her leaf now, calmly watching me as I work around her.

On a trip to the leaf rack, I see Robyn entering yard 9 with a towel. She's collecting Ocean Kim, the female joey from yard 9A, to pop her on the scales in the treatment room. The koalas are weighed from time to time to ensure they are not losing weight (or are gaining it, if that's the objective). As Robyn approaches, Kimmy aloft on her shoulder, Emma and I whip out our cameras. "Paparazzi", I mutter.

Ocean Kim
Ocean Kim
From koalawrangler's gallery.

Kimmy has her paw splayed on Robyn's back like a set of furry fingers. At such close range, I also notice that Kimmy has a single white eyebrow jutting out from above her right eye. Together with her impossibly fluffy ears, it makes her look wacky and dishevelled in the cutest way. She moves her head from side to side, likes she's curious about her vantage point from this newly mobile tree. Barb is there and I remark at how much Kimmy resembles her mum, Ocean Therese.

Barb fills me in on Walcha Barbie's progress after Friday's appointment with the vet. They've cleaned up the dead skin on Barbie's arm. Unfortunately they also had to remove one of her fingers due to gangrene, but this shouldn't affect her ability to climb. At least now her arm will continue to heal. Barbie's disposition is energetic; she seems to be well on the way to recovery.

Back in the dayroom, I ask Chris and Tracy whether they can to watch me write up the tick I found. From what I understand of the matter, ticks don't bother koalas like they do dogs and cats. Robyn's washing up the feed pots and explains that ticks can still result in anaemia if a koala gets a lot of them. Emma chimes in that she found 18 ticks in one go on Kempsey Carolina once.

Before I leave, we take a stroll around yard 10 to visiti the koalas up there. Tracy and Chris come along to meet them. Emma joins us to take some photos. Robyn goes into Ocean Therese's yard and gives her a neck scratch. There are plans to move Therese to a wildlife park, since it's unlikely she'd survive in the wild. We'll really miss her eager little face.

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