Thursday, 19 July 2007

From chocolate koalas to the real thing

I've been overseas for a couple of weeks so the closest I've come to koalas has been the chocolate-filled kind we scoffed plenty of in Japan. The biscuits were ubiquitous at train station shops so we stocked up on them for long rides on shinkansen. One time I couldn't see them at the counter so I flapped my hands at my ears while saying "koala" in my best Japanese accent. Amazingly, the lady knew exactly what I meant. Saying "koala" alone would probably have sufficed, but then I wouldn't have given all those other people on the train platform a demonstration of a koalawrangler on holiday. (The bikkies are called Koala's March, by the way,and each packet contains up to 17 different koala designs. Importantly, they donate part of their profits to the Australian Koala Foundation).

Now I'm back at the Koala Hospital with the real, inedible kind of koala, and I realise how much I've missed them! There have been visits from old koala patients since I've been gone, some positive, some not so positive: Newport Bridge Gloria, one of the koalas successfully treated under the Sydney University drug trials, was picked up wandering around an auto parts place near the highway. She was checked out and returned to a safe, more koala-friendly place. Calwalla Bill was also brought in for a check-up. He's the one who gave one of the vollies a swipe in ICU when he was last in. He's one of those koalas with a slightly grubby-coloured bottom. The hospital sometimes gets calls about about him from savvy Port Macquarie residents who know a bit about wet-bottom and think they've come across a new sufferer. He turned out to be fine and was sent on his way.

Other koalas revisiting us didn't fare so well. Innes Wonga, who had a gammy knee like our current resident Livingstone Clover, was found limping and died on arrival, as did Koalasaurus Inches. Little Cathie John, one of the joeys being raised by her dedicated homecare Mum also passed away. Before I went away, Judy told me that he had developed an infection and was being seen to by the vet. When I saw that his name was off the homecare board, I feared that he might not have pulled through. A part of the problem was that never quite There are more optimistic stories too: Oxley Sooney came in with a limp, was treated and released. Hastings Teal was admitted and then relocated to a safer area.

Candelo Cool's still with us. She had a return to ICU for a bit because of heavy rains (where Emma caught her lounging around on her gunyah!), but now she's back outside in the sunshine in yard 10. Ocean Golfer, the other Golfer's (Tractive) masculine competition, is still recovering in yard 10.

The flamboyantly named one-eyed Herschel Grady is the current wet-bottom in ICU. Barton Glen is in ICU with conjunctivitis. There's also Jonas Absalom Blinky who has conjunctivitis and who tumbled into a residential swimming pool.

Of course, the highlight of the hospital right now is Anna Bay Sooty who has newfound celebrity status. When Sooty came to us, she was placed in an outdoor aviary where she proved to be very skittish. She shied away from human contact, usually burying herself in her leaf when handlers were cleaning her unit. We soon discovered that Sooty was hiding more than herself away; she was also hiding a rather special secret. She was carrying a pinkie, the name given to an unfurred joey that lives in its mother’s pouch until it matures and is ready to face the world.

Sooty gradually got more used to being in hospital care, submitting to special eye ointments and medication that the hospital staff were using to treat Sooty’s eye complaint. Sometimes one way of treating conjunctivitis in koalas is to operate to remove the third eyelid. There is a special risk attached to this when the koala is carrying a pinkie since the anaesthetic used in the operation may cause the mother to reject the baby. If Sooty rejected her pinkie from the pouch, there is a chance it could die. The hospital is lucky enough to have a humidicrib which can be used to keep pinkies warm in the event of this, but this is no substitute for its own mother’s pouch. And I have it on good authority (Cheyne)that koala pinkies are very difficult to hand-raise.

Luckily, the pinkie remained where it was. Soon, hospital staff were delighted to see the size of Sooty’s pouch increasing and even some movement beneath her fur. Today, we were lucky enough to see a miniature koala hand poking out!

Anna Bay Sooty's joey
From broken_puzzle's gallery.

Over the last few weeks, visitors and vollies alike have been treated to the incomparable joy of seeing the now furred joey’s little face protruding from its mother’s pouch blinking up at the delighted, smiling human faces. It’s a joy having see this young one graduate from hidden pinkie to visible joey in such a seemingly short time. (The joey looks like it's wearing a fur-lined anorak in this photo, like Kenny from South Park!)

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