Monday, 28 January 2008

Who's the real king of the jungle?!

Granite Murray
Granite Murray
From koalawrangler's gallery.

Granite Murray, a large handsome male koala in our care, has spent several weeks in ICU being treated for "wet bottom". He's recently been shifted to an outside yard to complete his recovery, and spends most of his time high up his tree.

Today he came down for formula, but didn't shoot straight back up the tree afterwards. Instead, he paused halfway up, perching on the flat stump where a large branch has been removed to prevent possible escapes. He stayed there for quite some time, enjoying his surveillance of the entire hospital grounds from his lofty perch.

Who says the lion is king of the jungle?

I was able to take several shots of him from various locations.

Here are more photos of lovely Granite Murray.

Thursday, 10 January 2008

Hamlyn Bev returns to the fold

Alas, it can pay not to keep your hopes up regarding certain koalas. Sometimes a koala whose unit you've cleaned one week might take a turn for the worse and not be there at your next shift. I had been especially concerned about Hamlyn Bev and Bangalay Millie, both wet bottoms who’d been rescued during my shift on Thursday - Hamlyn Bev by Amanda and myself. Both were scheduled for ultrasounds at the vet and their outcome was uncertain until that examination.

So I’m thrilled to see both have been accommodated in units in the ICU. Just as I arrive, I spy Jim entering Bev’s unit with a bundle of towels and a scissors-and-string basket.

"Hold it right there, cowboy," I warn him. "That there is *my* koala. I bagged her fair n' square and no ornery varmint is gonna wrangle her but me.”

Jim looks suitably afraid and asks if there are any other koalas he needs to steer clear of, or if he should simply leave town on the next mail-coach.

Hamlyn Bev
Hamlyn Bev
From koalawrangler's gallery.

Bev’s ultrasound showed up that her bladder was clear but she has a cyst beside her ovaries. Not sure whether that’s something they will try to remove or not. She also has a weepy right eye from conjunctivitis.

Bev is a different girl to the one I saw on Thursday. Today she is spritely and alert, looking so pointedly at me that I worry for a moment that she might be about to spring off the gunyah and onto me the moment my back is turned. Of course, Bev was hand-raised in the hospital when she came to us as an orphan, so she is more used to human contact that the wilder koalas we get in the place. She’s got none of the “wild” koala reticence.

I go off in search of her food. She takes to it with gusto, sucking on the syringe like it’s a bottle. I try to position it at the side of her mouth but she won’t have it, she wants it front and centre like a teat. She suctions onto it and slurps it back and I imagine she’s recalling her days back in homecare with her foster mum, Judy. Apparently, Judy has been popping in to check on her former charge, ensuring she has her favourite leaf on hand.

Each time I place the syringe in her mouth, she reaches towards me and tries to grab my arm. It seems easier to let her, since she’s just wants something to hang on to and her claws aren’t particularly sharp. But she grapples for the syringe and they start to dig in; so I let go, and find myself in the situation I was in with Warrego Martin the other day – trying to wrestle the syringe out of the surprisingly nimble claws of a hungry koala.

Jim is next door, listening to the one-way conversation I’m having with Bev:

“Let go.”
“Ow, that hurts.”
“Drop it…”
“Give me back that syringe.”
“Not my arm, take the branch, the branch, not ME!”

He comments that he thinks I must have let him off lightly, if that’s the kind of carry-on Bev’s giving me. (Of course, I’m loving every minute of it, really!).

Bangalay Millie
Bangalay Millie
From koalawrangler's gallery.

Just then, Jim yells “hey!”. Apparently Bangalay Millie has just tried to jump from her gunyah onto the window ledge. That’s a good sign really. Her wet bottom seems much more advanced than Bev’s (who’s been rated a 1 on the wet bottom scale), so the fact that Millie’s still full of beans is usually a good sign.

I look in on Newport Bridge Gloria, one of the sweet little koalas from the drug trials earlier this year. She’s much quieter then these other two. Joy commented that it’s causing her pain to pass urine, which is not good. Still, we keep up her treatment and hope for the best.

Granite Murray has become a “jumper” apparently. He’s fed up with being indoors and wants out. So he’s taking it out on the vollies. He’s another less-wild (“tame” is a dirty word around here) koala, having been a patient here a few times before. So he knows the drill. But he’s over it and wants the great outdoors.

He probably thinks he’s missing out on all the fun Roto Randy’s been having.

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

Wednesday, 9 January 2008

Ocean Joseph and Hamlyn Bev

Well, today had the makings of a regular Thursday, after the yuletide madness of Christmas and Boxing Day.

I got assigned Kempsey Carolina and Ocean Joseph today. Both get a feed so I headed off to visit my friend Kempsey, who quickly drew a crowd as she slurped up her formula.

The leaf was already cut and laid out so I made short shrift of her yard, decking it out with plenty of Swamp Mahogany and Tallowwood.

I've only once before cleaned Ocean Joseph's yard before and he wasn't terribly interested in my feeding him. He's lying lengthwise on the gunyah, taking the pressure off the nasty bottom wounds he incurred in his second car accident in the space of months. Joyce looked after him in home care for a little while before he took up residence in the recently refurbished yard 8 (Perks Chris's former yard).

Ocean Joseph
Ocean Joseph
From koalawrangler's gallery.

He's one of those koalas that doesn't seek out the food pot--unlike Kempsey who licks at the air between mouthfuls. Joseph just lays there placidly while I gently squeeze the syringe between his lips. When he gets a taste of the formula, he decides he quite likes it, but he doesn't offer too much encouragement. He had big brown eyes and a calm expression common to the big males.

Joy, the hospital supervisor on today's shift, pops in to smear cream on his behind -- it can't be comfortable to sit on. His gunyah is covered in towels to soften his seat and to absorb any leakage from the wound.

Joseph nibbles at a bit of the new leaf before deciding it's all too much and decides to settle down for a snooze.

In the joey yard next door, Settlers Inn Casey is awake and having a bit of a scratch. According to the day-room whiteboard, she's been given a squirt of tick repellent of the exactly the same variety we give our dog. Because she seldom comes down, we don't get an opportunity to check her over for ticks, and it's the young koalas that can get anaemic if they get too many on them.

Casey is a wild child. She was an abandoned joey that had been fending for herself fairly well out in the bush, but was brought in to the hospital when she was sighted. We usually like to have joeys' weight up around 3.5kg before they are released, so she's staying with us to grow and fatten up. I remember when she first came in; she was like a child raised by wolves -- so small and cute-looking, yet pulling away and scratching like a banshee. "I'm big and tough, and can take care of myself!", she seemed to be saying.

Right now, she's looking down on me like I'm a small grub of no consequence. Speaking of grubs, just then three or four kookaburras camped out across several trees start howling at once. One has a large lizard in its mouth and the others aren't happy about it. It's so loud we can barely speak over the din. Tricia in yard 9 starts mock-laughing out loud, joining in.

Everyone's finishing up their yards when we get a call from Hazel, who runs the hospital kiosk. There's a suspected wet bottom koala in the tree outside her house. She needs some vollies to come over with rescue poles to get the koala down.

She lives in a leafy, meandering part of Port Macquarie. There are numerous koala crossing signs and all the streets we pass conjure up names of previous koala patients that hail from this area: Nulla Sam, Hamlyn Jack, Chisholm Dave, Cattlebrook John...

There are a host of folk waiting our arrival out in the street. Amanda and I get to work erecting our poles, while Hazel and another chap get the bags at the ready. The koala is a small one with a tag in her right ear, so we know she's a female and a former hospital patient. Amanda and I move in with our poles; it's a bit like we're jointly wielding a pair of giant chopsticks to pluck out a dumpling. Except that we don't ever touch her with the poles; the cloth hanging from them is used to entice her down the tree. She's currently sleeping so we have to wave a cloth in her face to wake her. It's a dream rescue -- she makes her way down the tree with our guidance and straight into the bag.

I hold her in the bag on my lap as we head back to the hospital. She hardly weighs anything at all.

Back at the hospital, Joy herself has gone out on a rescue so Amanda and I do our best to fill in the new koala's admission paperwork. I check her ear -- 967, no wait, 496...I was reading it upside down. D'oh. It's hard to wiggle the tag around on the ear of a live wild animal in a bag. Really it is.

We look her up in the book: it's Hamlyn Bev, an abandoned joey who was admitted to the hospital in May 2006 weighing only 1kg. She was home-cared then transferred to the hospital to grow before she was released in September last year.

I weigh the bag on the scales: 5.7kg, but after subtracting the weight of the bag, that makes her only 4.8kg, not big. Amanda finds a green form and we start completing it with details about her observable symptoms in preparation from Joy to examine her on her return. Amanda mixes up some hydrating liquid and we attempt to feed her. She's also got a few ticks on her that we remove.

Hamlyn Bev
Hamlyn Bev
From koalawrangler's gallery.

Hamlyn Bev
From koalawrangler's gallery.

Just then, Joy gets back with another koala she's rescued, not a previous admission, but with a very advanced wet bottom. We call her Bangalay Millie. She's going off to the vets for an ultrasound this afternoon which will tell us what's what.

Joy has a look at Bev and we all agree that Amanda and I should give up any fantasy we had to become vets. We'd both thought her tongue was a little yellow; Joy said it was quite normal. However, her right eye was slighly cloudy. Joy also notes that she's got a swollen gland under her arm and a very distended belly, the kind you see in malnourished children, which is clearly giving her some discomfort. Her fur condition iss good but her musculature was slack and she felt scrawny to touch. We watch her walk around the treatment room to see how she carries herself. She doesn't appear to have any mobility issues, other than being quite lethargic.

Poor little sausage! She's off to the vet for an ultrasound too. Fingers crossed.

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

Tuesday, 8 January 2008

Christmas among the gumtrees

It was a quiet Christmas this year, with no family in town, so we volunteered to work on Christmas morning. There were supposed to be a few of the usual volunteers away so it seemed like a nice thing to do, and an uplifting way to start the day.

The weather is glorious; clear and bright and not at all humid. We spray ourselves liberally with Aeroguard and headed into to what Warrego Martin is up to. Deb drags up a stool and starts feeding him. He seems a happy chappy these days. His pale fur always gives him a healthy look (although that is misleading since it's just his natural fur colour). We check him for ticks while Deb feeds him, taking care to avoid his eager grabs for her arm.

Next is Regatta Lanaye with her cloudy eyes. She's a quiet sort, keeps out of your way while you prepare her leaf. With two of us working we finished the yards in no time and decided to visit the other koalas.

We went into yard 9 and helped finishing the raking and leaf gathering. Bonny Fire was high in her tree. There's a rather exciting rumour going around regarding Bonny. You may recall her midnight rendezvous with the studly Mr Roto Randy some weeks ago. Randy was found in yard 9 one morning, having spent the night there. Bonny had rather a dreamy look on her face, Birthday Girl wasn't saying a word and, well, Wiruna Lucky says she didn't see anything. But there's every chance that Bonny *may* be "with pinkie"! Some vollies have noticed her getting rather thick around the middle so we're all crossing our fingers that it's a thickening pouch not midriff bulge. Of course, we don't encourage those sort of shenanigans, this being a hospital after all. But what goes on between consenting koalas during the middle of the night is secret koala business and not to be questioned by us humans.

On the topic, I found an interesting video on YouTube recently. It shows a male and a female koala performing their mating calls to one another (not sure where it takes place). The male bellow is one we're used to hearing around here; the female "eeee eeee" cry, I've heard less often. Check it out:

Lastly, we pop over to see Oxley Denise. She has assumed the usual position for her: high in the spokes of her umbrella.

Oxley Denise
Oxley Denise
From koalawrangler's gallery.

We notice that Tractive Golfer has come down and is nibbling away at his leaf. He hasn't been fed his formula yet since he was high in the sky earlier. It's another opportunity for Deb to take a crack at koala-feeding.

Deb feeding Tractive Golfer
Deb feeding Tractive Golfer
From koalawrangler's gallery.

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

Monday, 7 January 2008

Old friends

It's been a while since I've run through a day in the life of the koalawrangler. So here goes.

It's my usual Thursday shift. Trish, Jackie, Jared, Jan, Brooke, and Alison the international vollie from Canada.

Amanda asks me if I have a preference which koalas I do. I ask if I can do Warrego Martin's yard. I was aghast when I first heard he was back in with us. He took part in the university trials looking into treatments for Chlamydia. Martin had a distinctive light-coloured coat and a mousy face. He famously used to scamper up his umbrella and lodge in the spokes, monkey-like, whenever we entered his yard. Koalafucius say, "when in doubt, grasshopper, climb as high as you can". It's a trend that's caught on (see photo of Oxley Denise in this post).

When Martin was readmitted to the hospital last week he was looking flat. He had fallen foul of a bunch of ticks which made him anaemic. An ultrasound also showed that his kidneys were backed up. It didn't look good. At best, he was in urgent need of R&R; at worst, well...

So it's a relief to see he's still with us today. He's taken prime position in yard. He's getting fed formula twice daily to build up his strength. I head in with my pot and syringe.

I can tell he's remembering how the feeding works, the way he takes to the syringe. I'm standing up on the stool before him and he seems prefer taking it in the right side of his mouth, which is awkward as he's facing away from me. I endeavour to meet our little patient's needs though. Every once in a while I sense that he's about to reach for me. It's a bit of a reflex with koalas while they're feeding; it makes sense for them to be holding on to branch they're chomping on. Sometimes they treat your arm the same way -- just wanting to hold on. The trouble is that his claws are curved like scimitars and a misplaced grasp could cause a nasty scratch on my arm.

Just then, I see his arm shoot up towards me out of the corner of my eye. I've got the syringe at his mouth and my gut response is simply to let go of the syringe and hop out of his reach. Remarkably, his arm continues its trajectory to his mouth where he retrieves the syringe nimbly in his claws and sits there clutching it, for as though it was what he intended all along! "Tada! And, now, for my next trick!" I pluck the syringe easily from his grip and now I'm back in charge!

I set about preparing martin's leaf. A number of visitors stop by to greet Martin and ask about his story. One lady is crestfallen to see that yard 2's former occupant has been moved.

"A small female koala. With a damaged jaw. Just beautiful," she explains.

"All koalas are beautiful," I tell her. But I do understand that it's possible to get attached to a particular koala from time to time. I wasn't here last week so I'm not sure which koala she's referring to. I assure her I'll check her whereabouts when I next go inside. I'm keeping my fingers crossed that she's still with us.

I check with Amanda. It's the koala who's been moved up to yard 10. So Oxley Denise has a fan. I explain to the lady how to find her.

Getting to Martin in yard 2 involves a bit of legwork. You have to pass through yard 1, then yard 3 to reach the interconnecting gate to yard 2. So it's a lengthy process travelling back and forth with bunches of leaf -- new and old -- the feed pot and the poop bucket.

Yard 3 is no difficulty to get through since Regatta Lanaye is zonked out, happily snoozing on her gunyah. I recall her name from some time ago. She was last with us in June when she was found on a fence near some dogs. She was brought in for a quick check-up then sent on her way. This time she was noticed near the racecourse. She has developed a cloudiness in her eyes, as you can see in her photo. She's staying with us for observation.

In yard 1, there's Bay Street Macca, whose name is fairly self-explanatory if you know your Port Macquarie geography. Bay Street is the location of one of our two McDonald's family restaurants. Macca was brought in principally because McDonald's is not a great home range for a koala to have (no eucalyptus burgers, alas). He also presented with a left-eye injury. It's been treated now, but you can see that he's got some healing to do. Meanwhile, it's not easy getting from yard to yard with Macca helpfully guarding the gate.

Bay Street Macca
Bay Street Macca
From koalawrangler's gallery.

With Martin's yard done, I get on with Regatta Lanaye. Then it's time for me to check out what's happening inside.

Then I decide it's time to meet Oxley Denise since I've heard so much about her. When I get up to yard 10, I see that it's had some interior decorating.

Oxley Denise's yard
Oxley Denise's flash new yard
From koalawrangler's gallery.

Previously the smaller yards had bare dirt floors. One of the primary koalawrangling activities is to rake up koala poo, but doing this every day was putting too much strain on the tree roots. One thing that goes hand in hand with koala care is care for the koala food trees that support them. So the yards were covered in wood chip which provided a natural floor covering that protected the trees. It also meant that the poop started to mount up a little; it's hard to separate the koala pellets from the wood chip with a rake, I can tell you. Hence, the very snazzy new oval of astroturf. It's easy to rake and the trees stay happy.

Oxley Denise, peeking out beneath her leaf
Oxley Denise
From koalawrangler's gallery.

Back inside, I check who's been in, who's been released. There's good news and bad news. We've got another koala in from my early experience at the hospital: Newport Bridge Gloria is back with chlamydia and not doing very well. Hindman Foxie has been back in. I remember her as a small, sweet-faced little koala. She was brought in which a suspected eye injury but it turned out to be an old complaint so she was released. Opal Austin came back in after a fall from a tree but was released. Oxley Sooney, another koala who I remember from a while back, was brought in moribund condition and was euthanased. Little Tinkerbell, the tiny joey Barb was caring for, sadly died; also Hart Michael went into septic shock as a result of a dog attack. But some good news: Cathie Gower was released! Yay!

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