Thursday, 14 February 2008

Oxley Westi's surprise visit

I've been busy spreading a rumour concerning the possibility that one of our yard 9 resident koalas, Bonny Fire, *might be* "with pinkie" (i.e., carrying an unfurred joey in her pouch). If the truth be known, the rumour mill started with the hospital supervisor, Cheyne, who can smell pouch grease at 50 paces. "Pouch grease" is the secretion that sterilises the pouch and keeps the unfurred pinkie moist (it's a little like brown sorbelene).

However excited we all were at the prospect of a new little baby Bonny, it must be said that another pregnancy probably would have taken too much out of her. Bonny's in retirement mode now: the kids have all left home, she's made the sea-change, and now she wants to put her feet up for a bit, potter in the garden, play a little bowls, do a bit of volunteer work. Bonny's last "accidental" joey (when a male patient from another yard broke into yard 9), Bonny Ash, was taxing enough for her (and it simply ruined her weekly Mah-jong night having a joey tagging along). She's not a young koala anymore. So another change-of-life baby would have probably been the last straw for Bonny. (Seriously though, koalas don't go through a "change of life"; they can breed right through their adult lives).

So it was disappointing that there wasn't going to be the pitter-patter of little clawed feet around yard 9; but, you know what they say: a pinkie may go out the door, but a joey comes back through the window. (Well, they *don't* say that, but it works for the purposes of this story).

Back in February 2007, not long after I started at the hospital, I blogged about a koala called Oxley Westi here. When she was admitted, she was quite distinctive in that her eyes were "exopthalmic", meaning the eyeballs protruded abnormally. You can see earlier photos of Westi here here, when her eyes were in better shape.

A veterinary opthalmologist came in to look at Westi's eyes but could not be certain of the cause. We applied a special cream three times a day and this produced some improvement.

Westi also had another more pleasing medical condition: she was "up the pouch" (now that Cheyne has appropriated my neologism "with pinkie", I've been forced to invent another term in the vein of "up the duff"). Yes, on the whiteboard it clearly said "pinkie in pouch", although there was some debate at the time whether this was definitely the case. And we thought we would probably never know for sure. Westi stayed with us a few months and then was released; her eyesight not great, but adequate to perform her everyday activities.

Oxley Holly
Oxley Holly
From koalawrangler's gallery.

Eleven months later, which brings us to a week ago, motorists reported a koala walking along the busy Oxley Highway with a joey on her back. It was Oxley Westi! She *did* have a pinkie and it had become a joey which we gave the name Oxley Holly. Holly was in great shape. At 2.4kg, she was much too big for the pouch and certainly old enough to be away from her mother. Here is some video of Holly climbing aboard her mum's back as they eat leaf together.

Unfortunately Westi was not doing as well as her daughter. Although her body condition was good, her eyes had become much, much worse. They had clouded over significantly and were protruding even more than they had the year before. It was clear that she was blind. There was nothing we could do for Westi now. She was examined by a veterinary ophthalmologist who came up especially from Sydney to advise us, but the decision was made for Westi to euthanased to put an end to the pain her eyes must have been causing her. At least Westi was able to leave a tiny bit of herself behind in the guise of little Holly.

The same can be said of Bangalay Millie, a female koala with advanced wet bottom who was sent to the great gumtree in the sky last week. From her necropsy it was clear that she had carried a joey at some point; it's gladdening to know that Millie also contributed to the great circle of koala life (to paraphrase a Lion King metaphor).

Holly spent a little time in her own intensive care unit (here she is being released there for the first time), where she was joined by another joey with a rather unique story. William Krystal was a joey found on William Street in downtown Port Macquarie. The gentleman who discovered her was, shall we say, "tired and emotional" after an evening at the pub. When he came across an abandoned joey, he cuddled her for about two hours before bringing her to the koala hospital. Krystal was completely fine (although we generally discourage human contact for the joey's own good). We were just glad that the chap had not come across an older koala who might not have been so accommodating to his affectionate ways (then we discourage human contact for the human's own good).

Koalas might look like cuddly bears, but let the koala-cuddler beware (caveat koala huggor)! They possess scimitar claws that don't retract, meaning they can deliver nasty gashes whether they mean to or not. Just the other day, Barb was holding Oxley Holly, who gave a little start, inadvertently gave Barb a good scratch on the nose. As one of our special home-carers, Barb is used to a bit unintentional joey biffo. Pressing a tissue to her injury, she assured me: "it wouldn't be the first time, Sam, and it won't be the last".

Although at over 2kg Holly and Krystal are large enough to be separated from their mothers, we like to let the joeys continue to grow in a safe environment where they can also improve their climbing skills. So both joeys joined Settlers Inn Casey in yard 6 where they have a large spreading gum to practise climbing in.

In other koala news, we're a bit concerned that Ocean Joseph's not weeing. Cheyne tried dangling him by his arms the other day (which he looked like he rather enjoyed), in an effort to encourage a dribble, but to no avail. She fears that there might be a problem with his kidneys being backed up after his accident.

We also got called out to a house in Moruya Drive. A koala was up someone's orange tree: not a good place for a koala. Their backyard was surrounded on all sides by other backyards with dogs: definitely not a good place for a koala. Being in a orange tree had its advantages and disadvantages for us rescuers. Having very dense branches meant the koala could not spring out away from branch to branch as they often do; but this also meant it was difficult to for us to get up under the branches to get to the koala. Barb had the "scare" poles, designed to encourage the koala to move down the tree. I was wedged underneath it with a bag. After quite a bit of scurrying back and forth (and stamping all over the residents' ornamental garden), I managed to use the bag to lift the koala's arms from the tree. I backed away and out into the open with said koala and somehow lowered her to the ground and, with Barb's help, got the bag over her. Although my heart was racing and my legs were shaking, it was a textbook rescue.

The koala didn't have an ear tag, meaning she had never been a hospital patient before (woo hoo!) and she wasn't going to become one now either. Her eyes looked clear and her bum looked clean and white – seemingly wet bottom-free! This was merely a relocation, the koala doesn't get an official name. But I've dubbed her Moruya Judith that's what she *would* have been called had she been admitted. We drove around the corner to a lovely bushy corner with plenty of eucalyptus where we let her go.

Some good news: Kennedy Easy has been released, which was captured on film by my fellow koalawrangler, Emma.

Click here to see more photos of this week's koala patients at the Koala Hospital, Port Macquarie.