Friday, 17 August 2007

Joey news

The departure of our star attraction, Anna Bay Sooty and her little "Smudge", has left an gap in the joey department here at the koala hospital. Of course, we still have the beautiful Ocean Kim in residence. Kimmy has spent most of her young life at the hospital, since her Mum was hit by a car when she was still a pouch-borne joey. Once Kimmy has put on enough weight she will be released. In the meantime, she is always eager for fresh leaf, and will often scamper down to the gunyah and wait for its arrival.

She shares yard 6 with a much more reclusive joey, Lake Christmas, who barely ever makes it to planet earth. He was a bit older than Kimmy when she came in, so she had more wildness in her. She was happier in the higher branches and tended not to sit waiting for her tucker.

So when Kimmy bolted down to the gunyah the other day, I was busy chatting away to her, saying Kimmy-this, Kimmy-that, when I realised that she didn't have that telltale single white eyebrow poking out over her right eye (which gives her a slightly mad look). All the while I thought I was talking to Kimmy, I was actually in the presence of the Yeti-like Lake Christmas!

We've got a koala mum, Bellangry Niky, and her joey currently recuperating in homecare with Joyce, the experienced carer who tended to Ocean Kim's Mum, Ocean Therese when she first came to us.

We also have a tiny joey called Tinkerbell who, at 145 grams, was malnourished when she came to us and is getting round-the-clock TLC from another of our expert homecarers.

There have been some fascinating developments on the Anna Bay Lil front, a joey brought in during the week. When admitted, s/he was initially labelled female but her genitals were ambiguous; s/he appeared to have underdeveloped testes, so more tests were made to identify this little koala's biological sex. The results have now confirmed that Lil is intersex, that is, s/he presents both male and female sexual characteristics, a condition that occurs infrequently in both animals and human beings. So Anna Bay Lil is now Anna Bay Lilly Billy and has moved from ICU to take pride of place in sunsoaked yard 9a.

It was hoped that we would be able to keep Anna Bay Lilly Billy here at the hospital. Intersex koalas have seldom been documented, so it would have added greatly to our koala knowledge to be able to monitor her/his progress as Lilly Billy matures and develops. It would also be fascinating to witness his/her behaviour with male and female koalas. However, the powers that be have decided that s/he is to be released back into the wild, despite his/her inability to breed.

Friday, 10 August 2007

Furry golfers find their way home

I mentioned in a previous post that we have been awash with Ocean koalas (geddit?), that is koalas admitted who were found near Ocean Drive, the highway that connects Port Macquarie and Bonny Hills, Lake Cathie and beyond. It zips along at 80km/h, not a very koala-friendly speed, hence the relatively many koalas we get at the hospital who receive the "Ocean" moniker. In the last week or so, we've had Ocean Woody, Ocean Joseph, Ocean Jane and Ocean Golfer in through our doors. Ocean Joseph and Ocean Woody have since been released...not to the highway, of course, but to a nearby safe zone. Hospital staff usually divine a good spot that's not far from where the koala was found, but far enough from trouble, where there's plenty of good koala food and company (for when mating season rolls around again).

Ocean Jane
Ocean Jane
From koalawrangler's gallery.

There's lots of good release/transfer news today. There were several koalas in ICU that have all been released or transferred to the outside yards. Hamlyn Jack is in yard 1, Ocean Jane is in yard 2 and Jonas Absalom Blinky (phew!) is in yard 3. Livingstone Clover continues to be a little ornery in yard 4 and it's the usual crowd in the joey yard and yard 9. Wiruna Lucky has been bumped back into yard 9 to make way for Anna Bay Lilly Billy in yard 9a. Lucky has pretty much "assumed the position", taking up the exact bit of gunyah that always seemed to favour when she was in yard 9 before.

Ocean Joseph
Ocean Joseph
From koalawrangler's gallery.

I forgot to report earlier that Candelo Cool flew the coop (in a good way) a few weeks ago. Anna Bay Sooty and baby Smudge are back in Anna Bay. Sadly, Sandhill Col, was euthanased. I'm not really surprised--he wasn't an old koala but he looked so haggard and debilitated that sending him to that eucalyptus in the sky was a blessing.

I'm in yard 1 and 2 today, looking after their newest occupants, Hamlyn Jack and Ocean Jane. Jack seems much more sedate out here. He'd done a bit of a "Morrish Steven" on his indoor unit, trashing the place like a rockstar, so it's good to see him snoozy and calm.

Ocean Jane, on the other hand, is racing around her yard like she's on wheels. It's a far cry from the timid little lamb I fed the other day after she first came in. Right now, she's returned to the gunyah to scurry back and forth like it's a balancing beam. She hasn't been fed yet, so I finish up with Jack and head in there to feed her.

It needs to be taken slow since she's incurred some damage to her palate and has difficulty swallowing. I basically give the syringe a little squeeze, let her lap that up, and give it another little squeeze. It's very slow, but it's a pace that seems to work for her, as she's interested in food but makes a little choking sound if she swallows too much. She manages about two thirds of the pot before she curls up and settles into sleep.

Meanwhile, Amanda asks me if I'll come with her on a release. In fact, not one release, but two! Jonas Absalom Blinky in yard 3 and Ocean Golfer over in yard 10 are the two lucky chappies. Both are to be released to local golf courses where there are plenty of koala food trees and other koalas.

I ask Paul to finish up Jane's unit and I head off in Amanda's car. There are two covered baskets in the back and, being boys, the gamey scent they're excreting is as concetrated as an essential oil. Poo-ey! No wonder Jane was going a bit feral surrounded by three gamey males (Clover, Jack and Blinky).

Jonas Absalom Blinky
Jonas Absalom Blinky
From koalawrangler's gallery.

I've got the map and we head for the first golf course. There are yards of rolling turf with golfers tugging their bags and chatting amiably among themselves. The helpful chappy in the clubhouse points us towards a little bridge with a shed on the other side of it. There is a cluster of trees there that look like Melaleuca, a leaf that koalas like. We drive down there and pick out a good tree for our first release-ee, Jonas Absalom Blinky.

Blink is about all he does when we first open his basket. He just sits there and looks around, as though trying to process how he's found himself in this vast open green space. There are several good trees for Blinky to choose from and he tries all of them out. He climbs up one, then down again, climbs another, then down and then back to the original one which he rejects again before comically bounding off to a sheltered clutch of trees and takes off up a...fir tree! Wrong! Fir trees are NOT koala food trees, but fortunately there's a nicholii adjacent to it that he can spring to after we leave.

We continue on to the next golf course, home to Ocean Golfer. We follow a golf cart out to the far reaches of the course. The guys there know just the right spot for our koala, a sweet little junction of the 16th, 17th and 18th holes where there's a group of nice-looking tallowwood. Ocean Golfer knows just what to do and scurries up a tree with several finger-like branches. The golfing staff helping us comment on how much better his bottom looks. Golfer's fur is still a telltale orange-brown; it takes time for wet-bottom discoloration to grow out. They tell us that there are a few koalas around here, so that bodes well for Golfer to go forth and bring some more little caddies into the world.

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

Thursday, 9 August 2007

Sandhill Col

Golfer is giving off a particularly gamey scent right now and I notice that his scent gland, the furry cleft in his chest, is glistening. I wonder if that’s pure parfum du koala seeping out of there?
Amanda must be psychic. She's written me up for yard 10, which is just where I'd like to be. I haven't wrangled up there for about six weeks. I take Tractive Golfer’s feed pot and set off, grabbing some newly sharpened clippers from the tool shed on the way. Ocean Golfer is the first koala I see as I enter the yard. He’s the one Tractive was giving a hard time when he was in yard 10z. He seems to mind less now that Ocean is on the periphery. Tractive is down on his gunyah and lets me give him a feed. There’s nothing more serene than feeding one of these animals in the morning sunlight with only the birdsong in your ears. Golfer is giving off a particularly gamey scent right now and I notice that his scent gland, the furry cleft in his chest, is glistening. I wonder if that’s pure parfum du koala seeping out of there?

It’s getting confusing with all the golfers in here. There are also a number of “Oceans” at the hospital too, courtesy of Ocean Drive, a main road nearby. Cheyne comes in to give Ocean Golfer some medication. He looks like he’s doing well in here. He’s a round little fellow who clearly likes his food. I hear him rustling around in his leaf a bit, searching out a choice bit of yesterday’s leaf.

I mention to Cheyne that I noticed our old friend Links Lorna had been in the hospital during the week. She was the koala I first heard make an “eeping” noise whenever she was a bit miffed. Unfortunately, she had become debilitated since her release, losing two kilos which is a significant amount for a koala of Lorna’s size. Cheyne said she looked just like O’Briens Fiona had—scrawny and unwell—before they decided it would be best to euthanase her. Now that I’ve been a koalawrangler for over six months, I’m more aware of those koalas I’ve met with early on coming in for repeat visits. It’s the nature of living with what they call an urban koala population. Having said that, we get older koalas in who’ve gone through most of their lives in Port Macquarie without ever needing to pay us a visit.

Sandhill Col is another koala who could use some more meat on his bones. He’s not an old koala but he has a grizzled look about him that makes him seem older than his years. He suffers from conjunctivitis and has recently been moved outside. His fur is darker than most, which is often a barometer on illness, similar to the way Anna Bay Miles’s used to be before he made a 180 degree improvement and lighter patches started coming through. Like all the koalas that graduate to the outdoors, Col looks a lot happier in the sunlight. He’s also eating up his leaf so I make sure to prepare him some juicy big bunches.

Jackie is just finishing off ICU. There is a new little joey in ICU who’s a real cutie (aren’t they all?). At present, it’s unsure whether Anna Bay Lil is Lil or Bill until we get definitive tests back. S/he is snuggled in the leaf when I peer in. He’s being strictly dehumanised to prepare him for life in the wild again.

One-eyed Herschel Grady and Hamlyn Jack with conjunctivitis are both still in ICU. There’s a newcomer, a motor vehicle accident victim. Ocean Jane was hit by a car on Ocean Drive. The poor chap who hit her put her straight in his car and brought her in to the hospital, making sure to visit her again that afternoon. Amanda asks me to feed her and as I enter she turns the sweetest face towards me. She has a bit of a mucous problem, her right nostril gummed up with snot. She has difficulty swallowing so I ease the syringe into her mouth and take it slow. She’s interested enough, but can only lap slowly. She drinks more than three quarters of the pot in this fashion until she produces a snorty gargle in her throat signals she wants no more.

I promise Jackie I’ll mop ICU when she’s done and flick through the day book while I’m waiting. Barton Glen has been released! I feel a special simpatico for the ones I’ve wrangled up close. Good for Barton Glen.

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

Thursday, 2 August 2007

Sooty's Smudge

Staring at Anna Bay Sooty's pouch, I feel a bit like a papparazzi photographer waiting for the latest celebrity to emerge outside of the London restaurant or nightclub du jour...not knowing whether I would be waiting a minute or an hour...
It's most of the usual suspects on the Thursday shift: Amanda, Jarred, Brooke; although Trish and Paul couldn't make it in.

I'm given a choice between yard 10 or two of the yards nearest to ICU. It's no contest really: one of the two yards contains Anna Bay Sooty, and Anna Bay Sooty contains a precious little joey called Smudge. At least, that's what we call him/her as in my house; you know, like a smudge of soot.

My other koala is Livingstone Clover, a big boy who spends most of his time high in the tree in yard 4. He's got a limp on him like Innes Wonga used to, but he's surprisingly agile, even for a big boy. It's easy doing his yard since he's up on yonder branch.

It's all coming back to me, this koalawrangling stuff. Chuck the recycled pot, divide up yesterday's leaf and trim it back. I'm reminded of an ikebana presentation I saw in Kyoto. A kimono-clad Japanese lady kneeled on stage carefully examining different branches of fern which she then assembled in a pot. Occasionally, she'd pause and take up a pair of clippers to trim a stem before placing it precisely in the vase. It was such a serene, careful presentation, yet ridiculously all I could think about was how similar it was, in a paraodic sort of way, to cutting koala leaf. The process was just the same, minus loud bird call, the eucalyptus aroma, the splash of hose water. Oh, and we used hedge clippers as long as your arm.

Cheyne sticks her head over the fence to ask if I'll prepare yard 2 for Barton Glen, a koala transferring from ICU. So I set about sorting out the pots and filling the water bowl. When I'm done, Cheyne reappears looking for Amanda who's not in the vicinity, so she asks me those magic words: "want some handling practice?"


I can't really go around calling myself the koalawrangler when the most of I've wrangled lately is our kitten. (Although, kitten-wrangling, like cat-herding with which it is closely related, is not an activity for the faint of heart).

So I roll up my sleeves literally and figuratively and head into ICU. Cheyne hands me a bag and points me in the direction of Barton Glen's unit. I'm horizontally challenged so she drags up a stool for me to stand on. But that's where her assistance ends. I'm doing this on my own. I tell her she's terribly mean, but of course I know that this is as it should be: how else am I going to get good at koalawrangling if I always look to a more experienced wrangler to take over? What good would I be if called upon in a rescue sitation?

But I haven't bagged a koala for a while so Cheyne does give me a tip upfront. "Just drop the bag over him like he's a bell." I do this and then Barton reacts as though in slow motion, trying to shift out from under the bag, but not at any kind of great speed. I go for his wrists under the bag and Cheyne says, no, it's better to try to topple him into the bag rather than use the bag as a means of picking him up.

It all happens quite fast after that and suddenly Barton's in the bag and I'm gripping it securely around the neck (the bag, that is, not the koala!). I carry him triumphantly into ICU for the next round: tagging and chipping. I hold the bag open just enough to allow his head to poke out, but ensure that he can't move while Cheyne tags his ear. Next, it's the patch at the back of his neck and down his back that is left uncovered so that the microchip can be inserted.

I reclose the bag and carry Barton Glen out to his interim home, yard 2. I put the bag down gently and ease it open to let him crawl out. He looks around, blinking, as they all do when we do the hey-presto! unit/yard swap. But he regains his composure and hightails it up onto the gunyah and tucks into the leaf I've prepared for him. There's a group of visitors who are delighted by his appearance and crowd around to watch him acclimatising to his new environs.

But Glen's is nothing like the crowd generated by our littlest resident, Smudge [not his/her real name!], Anna Bay Sooty's little joey. After weeks of only seeing nothing more than Anna Bay Sooty's burgeoning pouch or, on occasion, a tantalising paw, we're now being treated to the appearance of the joey itself. It's still too little to completely leave the pouch (or perhaps the weather's just too darn cold!), but lately we've been treated to the exquisite sight of Smudge's little face cradled in Anna Bay Sooty's arms (and scary claws!). I've also seen Smudge do a complete about-face, wiggling its tiny white fist-sized bottom in the air as it's tried to find a more comfortable position. Sometimes we would stand for 30 minutes at a time in Anna Bay Sooty's yard staring at the sleeping mother, willing the baby to come out for us to ogle it.

Staring at Anna Bay Sooty's pouch, I feel a bit like a papparazzi photographer waiting for the latest celebrity to emerge outside of the London restaurant or nightclub du jour...not knowing whether I'll be waiting a minute or an hour... Then, as we all stood there, vollies and visitors alike, John came in to spray the leaf and lo and behold, Smudge emerges in all its glory and sits looking up at us for what seems like ages. It's a precious moment, made all the more special by the news that they will soon be leaving us to return to their home down south in Anna Bay.

There are more photos of "Smudge" here:

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