Sunday, 8 April 2007

Foxie lady

Jo asks us who we think should be moved into Lorna's old yard from the inside units or the aviaries. It's like trying to decide who should be upgraded from a standard room to a suite.

Ocean Therese
From koalawrangler's gallery.
I couldn't keep my eyes open last night after the action-packed koala hospital open day. Despite hitting the sack at 8.30pm, I still managed to oversleep this morning. I've given Pete a call to let him know I'll be a bit late.

Emma's in yard 3 when I arrive. Things aren't quite back to normal in the dayroom yet. There're umbrellas and display boards stacked near the tables that had been scattered around the hospital forecourt the day before. The koalas are all where they should be -- and that's the main thing! My name's not on the board against a particular yard or unit. John's got the aviaries as usual. Jim's out in the leaf skip; not by it, in it. He's trying to stamp down the overflowing leaf, making heavy footsteps in a circular path around the skip. I shout out, "they're not grapes you know". This is as witty as I get at 8.15am on a Sunday.

Tracy's in yard 9 feeding Birthday Girl. Peter and Chris are contemplating Bonny Fire. I greet Pete with the question, "so what's my punishment?" (for being late). I'm allocated to ICU (no punishment at all). I ask him if it's okay to help Jim out first in yard 10 before starting on ICU together. Chris calls me over to look at Bonny's foot. They reckon she's got a tick between her toes. Pete's gone to find some tweezers. Bonny's not pleased with the close attention we've been paying her and starts to scoot up the pole connecting her gunyah to a nearby tree. Chris shows he's been learning some koala lore by gently pushing on her forehead to keep her in place while we both have a closer look. I reckon it's got to be a tick too.

I grab some of the good orange leaf cutters and head into yard 10. Jim's already raked Golfer's area and made up his recycle pot. I start on Ocean Therese. She's down from her tree and wrapped around a fork on her gunyah. She leans towards me as I enter, nosing the air. I can't feed her or touch her. She's being dehumanised for her impending transfer; although this is a contradiction in terms for Therese who's probably even more human-friendly than Kempsey Carolina (which is saying something). Compared to the other wild koalas we get at the hospital, she's like a living Gonzo or Fozzie Bear, more fuzzy animated creature than animal. They say she might have incurred brain damage from her car accident last year, which might account for her gentle docility.

She climbs down from her gunyah and approaches me. I'm not worried she'll climb me like Sandfly Jye might try to do. It feels like she must want to be near, but, as Cheyne always says, it's more likely that to Therese I'm just a walking purveyor of leaf or formula. So I try not to touch her, which is almost impossible as she's virtually walking into me. Then she sits back on her haunches, not pushy like O'Briens Fiona used to be. She just lets me do what I need to, raking up her poo and clearing one pot of leaf.

A lot of poop and dried leaves appear to have gathered near the edges of her yard. I start to arrange it into a few smaller piles. As I sweep one up into the dustpan, I I catch a glint of aubergine among the poo pellets. Is it a tick? I shake the pan so as to sort through the oval objects better, momentarily feeling like I'm panning for gold -- trying to find that glossy tick among the dull droppings. No luck, it all goes into the poo strainer near the hospital's back entrance.

Ocean Roy
Ocean Roy
From koalawrangler's gallery.

As Jim starts on Ocean Roy, he asks me what happened to Links Lorna. It's nice to be able to say she's been released. Jim confesses he's a little sad; she was a bit of a favourite for him. I know just what he means. You develop feelings of fondness for these animals even if those feelings are never reciprocated. The more you're with them, the more you become aware of their different behaviours and vulnerabilities that we then anthropomorphise into "personalities". Then it's not just any koala that's freed, it's a specific koala that you cherish particular memories of. We wranglers are not veterinary experts; we're people with pets and kids and (usually) non-medical day-jobs. So we're non-scientific about our responses to being around koalas so regularly. I can't work this closely with particular animals for weeks on end without feeling a poignant sense of loss when they're gone. Lorna will always be "Eepy" to me, because of her characteristic you're getting to close warning noise which sounded just like eep.

Jim's finishing Oceanview Terry's yard so I start on Sandfly Jye's. Jye immediately jumps down from his perch and races towards me, something he's becoming known for. I'm more familiar with his antics now so I don't even crouch down. He stands beside me as I rake, until suddenly I feel his claws on my lower leg. Hmmm. Best not stick around and see what happens next. Peter brings in the food for Golfer and Jye. So Jye's probably eager to be fed. I try to feed him while he's on the ground, but he's grabby so it's not working. I leave the unit and wait until he's bored with roaming and regains his high fork. He usually feeds best (in my experience) when he's above you; even on the gunyah beam he tends to grab, which makes feeding a bit hazardous. Up on his perch, he takes the food complacently, poking his pink tongue out rhythmically; it's the same colour as his flared pink nostrils. Jim says Jye also prefers to feed from his left-hand side and he's right. Probably cos most of the wranglers would be right-handed.


Morrish Steven
From brokenpuzzle's gallery.
Jye's more subdued now so I can finish raking his yard. Jim's finished Ocean Roy and Links Lorna's unit is empty since her release, so we've done all we can until the leaf arrives. We head in to ICU. I start Lake Private, Jim is in with Innes Tony, Chris is next door with Anna Bay Miles, Ian's in with Calwalla Bill and Emma is trying to fend off Morrish Steven, in vain. Steven is known for being "grabby". He's not striking out, he just likes to reach out for you when you're near. Not sure what he wants exactly; it's probably just his way of expressing that he'd like some fresh leaf, please! Today he's even scampering around the ground and, according to Emma, biting at her knees.

Luckily Lake Private is quite placid. He's a wet-bottom so he gets a new towel, but the hardest thing is persuading him to move down to the fresh-towel end of the gunyah. He does so lingeringly and in reverse. When the leaf arrives I see that Chris has brought in Melaleuca and there's a bundle with a flourishing bunch of blossoms. I mention this to Chris, knowing how much Anna Bay Miles likes them. Miles is doing much better now; I recall Robyn saying that they didn't think he would make it. Perhaps it's the melaleuca! I wonder if Anna Bay Sooty loves it as well?

I see Barb in the treatment room and ask her how things turned out with Nulla Sam, the one found curled up on the ground. When I saw him yesterday, he was lying, unmoving, in his basket. His eyes were flickering open and closed; he really looked like he wouldn't last the night. Sam's lymph glands were also dramatically swollen. Barb had called the vet in who elected to put him to sleep. I'm pleased to hear that they were able to end his pain.

Next I start on Hindman Foxie. I want to do her unit all in one go since she is carrying a joey and is highly stressed. With the leaf here, I hope to restock her leaf to distract her while I finish cleaning the rest of her unit. Her towel is very clean so I check with Peter whether it's worth changing it. Changing is the more distressing part of the cleaning process since the animal has to be encouraged to move at some point, although we work around the animal as much as possible. Peter looks at the whiteboard and decrees that since she's not a wet-bottom, it's okay to leave it. Perhaps avoiding the stress of a towel change will offset whatever benefit is gained by a clean towel?

Foxie still keeps me in sight the whole time, as much as she can with one blind eye. I've noticed this to be a particular trait of koalas with vision in only one eye: Links Lorna and Ellenborough Nancy. Being partially blind must make them even more sensitive to potential danger.

I try to give her flourishing bunches she can hide in. When she moves down the leafy end, I can see her bulging pouch in all its glory. It's uplifting to see evidence of the koala population replenishing itself, despite everything that is working to deplete it (in particular, chlamydia and urbanisation).

Back in yard 10, Jye is sitting in one corner of his yard in an almost meditative pose. Jo is talking to Peter next door in Links Lorna's old yard. She pops in and expertly lifts him back onto his gunyah, where he returns to his slumber and doesn't move for the rest of the afternoon. Jo asks us who we think should be moved into Lorna's old yard from the inside units or the aviaries. Yard 10 is furthest from the treatment room so it can't be a koala who still needs close monitoring such as Bellevue Bill or Innes Tony. Condon Geoff is soon to be released so he may as well stay in the aviaries. Morrish Steven is too naughty (see above), and beside, he hasn't been here that long. It's like trying to decide who should be upgraded from a standard room to a suite.

Another contender is Ellenborough Nancy. I think she's the perfect choice. As one of the wildest koalas, it would be wonderful to graduate her to a yard that is fully outside. The umbrella will have to go though, in case she tries to use it to escape. This gets Jim and I to thinking. The koalas with only two leaf pots and no umbrella need a third recycle pot simply to provide more shelter for them. It's important to a koala's koalaness to have a spray of leafy branches to nest under. Jye and Oxley Jo both have a third pot with towering branches, but Oceanview Terry, Ocean Roy and Lorna's vacant yard (sans umbrella) do not.

Jim, Peter & Oceanview Terry
Oceanview Terry wonders what Jim and Peter are up to down there
From koalawrangler's gallery.

Jim dons his Bob the Builder cap and retrieves some wide blue tape from his car. Peter tracks down some wire and some new leaf pots. I source the red tape that demarcates the recycle pots. Jim sets about tightening the existing wire on the gunyahs. Lookout Harry takes umbrage at this and gives Jim a swipe; fortunately, he's not hurt. Terry and Roy get new pots taped in place. There are no metal pot brackets so this will have to do. It means that the pots can't be taken down for a proper scrubbing, but they're designed for sheltering-leaf not eating-leaf.

Pete I grab some leftover leaf from the leaf shed and start to fashion new shelters for Terry and Roy. Terry actually treats his new bunch like it's a tree trunk and wraps himself around it, pinned in at the back with a tree fork. It really doesn't look comfortable, but there's still the higher fork climb up to if he wishes.

After my shift, D____'s parents come in to the hospital and I give them a guided tour around the yards. Ocean Kim delights us by clambering down from her leafy perch and tucking into the leaf there. Before we leave, D____'s folks adopt a koala, little Links VTR.

On my way home, I drive down Koala Street and past O'Briens Road. It gives me pause, as I remember funny little O'Briens Fiona, now fattening up in the heavenly treetops.

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