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.