Monday, 22 October 2007

The great koala chase

Tawny Frogmouth and chick in yard 9
Tawny Frogmouth and chick in yard 9
From koalawrangler's gallery.

No, when I left the koala hospital this afternoon I didn't expect I'd be chasing a koala down Pacific Drive before I made it home.

Cheyne asked me to come in to the hospital this arvo to put my slide-wench skills to good use. She is giving a presentation next week on the work we do at the koala hospital, and the finer details of PowerPoint were eluding her.

So after spending a couple of hours animating text and cropping some pretty gruesome photos of dog attacks and motor vehicle accidents, I was glad to get out amongst the well-tended, luckier koalas in our care.

Three Dutch ladies outside Perks Chris's yard beckoned to me as I locked up. They were having trouble picking out our old girls in yard 9. I was happy to give them an impromptu tour along the perimeter of the yards. Birthday Girl was curled up on the gunyah, but I couldn't see Bonny up her usual tree. I thought she might have gone into hiding in case Roto Randy was feeling the love again (as he did the other night when he broke into yard 9 and, we suspect, had his wicked way with her). But we walked north around yard 9 and could see Bonny curled up on the gunyah on the other side.

The cute little tawny frogmouth mother was still there with her chick, pretending to be a tree branch. Wiruna Lucky seemed to be the only koala awake and snuffling her leaf. Around in yard 10, Westport Lily was tucked up in the spines of her umbrella.

Little did I know that these weren't the last koalas I would see today!

Since it was still light, I drove home via the coast road rather than Lord Street. I had passed Flynn's Beach shops when I saw a couple walking a huge dog, something like a cross between a wolf and a shetland pony. They'd come to a stop by a large tree at the side of the road, where, to my complete shock, there sat a koala. As I sped by, it looked peculiarly like the koala and the dog were having a conversation (fortunately the dog was on a tight leash).

I immediately pulled over and jumped out of the car, not sure what I was going to do when I got out. Did I have a towel in the car if I needed to pick the koala up, should something happen? I had no chance to find out as, the koala decided he'd had enough with talking to the dog and bounded headlong into the road, Pacific Drive. I only had enough time to recognise that the koala had an orange tag in its ear (so was a former hospital patient).

My gut response was to fling myself into the traffic (not really TRAFFIC, there were a few cars coming on either side). I waved my hands frantically at the cars going south and then threw myself in the way of cars approaching north. Fortunately, everyone stopped and our plucky koala bounded off down Leanda street headed for who-knows-where.

Of course, I went after it. I felt a bit like Alice following her white rabbit down the rabbit hole. I was also starting to wonder which piece of clothing--my t-shirt or my pants (the wraparound Thai fisherman variety)--would be the least offensive garment to remove if I needed to use them to pick up the koala. Yes, this is the kind of madness that goes through the mind of a koalawrangler when hot on the heels of a scampering koala. Of course, what I was going to do with the koala when I got it was a another matter.

I saw a guy approaching at a distance with a dog--I squawked at him, "Is your dog on a leash?! I've got a koala here!". Naturally.

My koala didn't seem to know where it was going but stopped and paused on someone's front lawn before heading off into their side yard. As a I tramped through the backyards of Leanda Street, I realised I was harbouring the illogical sense that this was somehow a lost koala--probably because it had an ear-tag and I wasn't used to seeing tagged koalas outside the hospital. It somehow felt that this koala was AWOL from yard 10 or something. It wasn't of course, nor did there look to be anything wrong with it. He was just in the wrong place at the wrong time.

It seemed to me that I would need help so I got the koala hospital on the line. John answered and I talked (or more like, squawked) my way through the situation. The koala seemed to have worked its way into a corner. The side yard backed onto two other yards where three fences met at a point, two metal and one wood. Amazingly, the koala climbed the wooden fence and along the metal fence.

It was beyond my help now.

A guy in the backyard next door was cracking open a beer. I blurted out from the shrubbery, "do you have a dog?". I think looking at horrible photos of koala dog-attack victims all afternoon had unsettled me. The bloke wandered over to the fence as I watched the koala's dappled behind disappear up the fence line away from me.

"Oh don't worry", he told me. "He's usually here".

Ohhhh. So I'd just been stalking someone's very own backyard koala???

Just then, the koala in question sat back on his haunches and let out a loud koala mating drawl--definitely a male. If he was a gorilla, he'd probably have been beating on his chest about now.

"There are koala trees just here", the man continued, like having a koala in his backyard was the most natural thing in the world. Behind me, I heard a miaow. A calico cat was looking at me quizzically as if to say, "what are doing in my owner's rose bushes?". It seems like I was the only entity who was concerned about the koala being there.

So I headed home, living to wrangle another day!