Thursday, 28 February 2008

Granite Murray's in the bag

Granite Murray is still in ICU and receiving treatment as part of the Sydney uni trials. It's all in the name of curing chlamydia. He seems happy to receive his 100ml of formula and takes it without a bit of fuss. Below you can see my five-step feeding-bagging method for Granite Murray:

1. Feed him. About 100ml ought to do it.

2. Give him a comforting little pat.

3. Whip the bag over his head when he's not looking.

4. Give it a twist to ensure no koala "bits" (claws, teeth) can get out.

5. Hey presto! One bagged koala!

(Don't try this at home!)

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

Joeys behaving badly

It's not easy being the only boy koala occupying a single tree with three girls. Just ask One Mile Beach Noah.

As a relative newcomer to yard 6, Noah has made his home in one of the lower forks of the yard's tree. The spot has become a favourite for him; you often see him flopped in the crook of its branches, arms and legs dangling like a happy sloth.

Trouble is, this fork is a bit of major thoroughfare, especially when new leaf has arrived. Today, Helene was distributing leaf into the several pots strewn around the gunyah in yard 6. Oxley Holly (I can tell it's her by her nose) decided she was heading down for a gander at the smorgasboard.

But Noah was having none of it.

Noah wouldn't budge so Holly shimmied down the main trunk and wedged herself in front of Noah (where they gave each other a bit of a sniff). Then, when Holly didn't vamoose her caboose, he gave her a warning nibble on the shoulder.

Noah giving Holly a warning chomp
From koalawrangler's gallery.

Holly eeped a little and then clipped Noah over the ear before taking off up the tree again.

It was time for Holly's Plan B.

Her next tactic was to reverse down the tree...onto Noah's head. She sat there on Noah's noggin for a bit, before he gave Holly her final marching orders.

Holly sitting on Noah
From koalawrangler's gallery.

Holly gave up and took off...and Noah resumed the position in *his* treefork.

One Mile Beach Noah
One Mile Beach Noah back in the zone without any pesky chicks around
From koalawrangler's gallery.

Here's some of the action caught on KoalaKam:

Interestingly, it was almost exactly a year ago that I blogged on some other joeys behaving badly in Joeyz in da hood.

In other news, Hamlyn Bev is jumped ship from the round yard in yard 10 into yard 10 proper. She is currently, unhelpfully, up a pine tree.

Nowendoc Carl is looking a million bucks after his operation to remove the inflammed tissue from his eyes. The right is still cloudy, but the left is much clearer. He looks much better just being out in the yards and "upstairs" (on the top part of the gunyah), rather than looking lacklustre on the bottom rung as he did inside. His fur, which was a dun-brown colour on admission looks to me like it's got some healthier grey flecks coming through, or perhaps that's just from seeing him in the sun for the first time. He's much brighter and grabbier too - he managed to wangle the syringe off me at one point (to the amusement of the watching visitors) and attempted to feed himself with it to no avail before submitting to my giving it another go!

Poor Emerald Matilda, the blind koala from last week, was euthanased. Another blind koala, Banksia Ted, has come in to be assessed. There is also a Lighthouse Di who is just the cutest looking thing, who might be entering the Sydney uni trials as she is a wet bottom.

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

Friday, 22 February 2008

Bonny Hills sweetheart pregnant to koala love rat!

The alleged love rat Dad
Roto Randy
From broken_puzzle's gallery.

First we thought she WAS pregnant, then we thought she wasn't...but, now, thanks to some indisputable evidence caught on camera this week, we're positive that long-time hospital resident Bonny Fire is officially "in the family way", "with pinkie" or "up the pouch"! And the father is no less than that love rat extraordinaire, Roto Randy.

Last week, Bonny Fire was enjoying a manicure and pedicure courtesy of Cheyne, the hospital supervisor, and Jo, a visiting veterinary science researcher from Sydney uni (here to continue her work on how best to treat chlamydia in our koalas). Bonny's nail beds were badly damaged during the bush fires that brought her to us from Bonny Hills in 2001 (which you can see in her photo above); so Bonny comes in for the occasional nail clipping (and a complimentary French polish). Actually, technically her nails were being dremelled (ground down).

So Bonny was on the treatment room table for this routine procedure. She was anaesthetised using gas rather than injectable sedation, which was quite fortuitous since the former is much safer for pregnant koalas. At this point, it was not known that Bonny was pregnant, then suddenly -- surprise, wiggly pouch!

Wiggly pouch action caught on film (courtesy of Jo)!

Bonny's head is off camera to the left and her legs to the right. When a koala is upright, the pouch entrance runs vertically down the body. So in this footage, the pouch entrance is the barely visible "seam" that runs horizontally on the left of the shot. Above this, there is clear "pouch action" going on! Jo and Cheyne didn't look inside because the pouch opening was really tight (with an opening only about the size of a twenty cent piece) and the koala can lose her baby if disturbed.

At this stage, the joey is an unfurred pinkie weighing approximately 35 grams and still attached to its mother's teat. We won't be seeing any sign of it outside the pouch for a good three months. Even then probably it will only be a limb here and there; it will be 6-8 months before the joey fully braves the outside world and takes to riding on Bonny's back. It is likely that Bonny conceived in November 2007 when Roto Randy, the wild male koala who lives in the nature reserve near Roto House, made his unscheduled visit to yard 9 one fine Spring night.

Bonny's last pregnancy at the hospital was also the result of a midnight tryst with a male koala, this time back in December 2004. Crestwood Ryan was a fellow patient who obviously wasn't that sick since he managed to scale a fence in order to whisper sweet nothings to Bonny Fire.

Bonny Ash was the result in 2005. She remains one of the most popular adoptions in the hospital's Adopt a Wild Koala program, although she is probably having young ones of her own out there in the wild by now.

Roto Randy chasing Abigail (with joey on back) IX
From broken_puzzle's gallery.

Roto Randy has been hanging around the hospital grounds since at least October 2007 when he was sighted, stalking the female patients and residents for a bit of nooky. There were a couple of occasions when Randy made full-scale advances towards Roto Abigail, the female koala also living in the hospital grounds, despite her clearly being burdened with a dependent joey. Abigail did all she could to discourage his overtures, and a couple of times hospital staff had to step in to move Randy along (and so prevent Abigail's joey from going splat!). Hitting on a lady with a baby... Roto Randy, you're a class act!

Then, just the other week, Randy was next setting his sights on the elderly Birthday Girl. She came within his reach during her recent bionic-koala climbing spree. Randy was definitely up for it -- trumpeting out his mating call across yard 9.

Roto Randy is truly a koala love rat! He has already demonstrated all the tendencies of a deadbeat dad. Fortunately, koalas aren't very social and don't tend to hang around in family groups. The males and females come together for mating, otherwise they're on their own, unless a mother is caring for a joey.

In truth, of course, Roto Randy is not really behaving badly at all. It was mating season after all, and Randy was simply following his instincts, which naturally result in propagating the species. And we're all for MORE joeys (and hence koalas). It just makes you realise that koalas are not a "how's about dinner and a movie, then maybe later...?" kind of species. Then again, few are.


So there I was, just the other day, waxing lyrical about the recent glut of joeys (well, four) that we've been enjoying at the hospital. I say "enjoying", although it's a highly mixed blessing since at least two of the joeys came to us as a result of the death of their mothers (Noah's mother was hit by a car, and Holly's mother had to be euthanased). The other two were either orphaned or abandoned.

At least with Bonny jnr on the way, there's nothing but positives, since Bonny is alive and well, if a little long in the tooth. I had suggested in a recent post that perhaps Bonny would prefer to enjoy her retirement without another little anklebiter around. But, after surviving a bushfire and one unplanned pregancy, the old girl's got chutzpah, I'll give her that!

As for us at the hospital, our joey cup runneth over!

More photos of Bonny Fire. More photos of Roto Randy.

Thursday, 21 February 2008

Get out the rusks, the play pen and the bassinet... the joey yard is full again!

Settlers Inn Casey (L), William Krystal (C) & One Mile Beach Noah (R)
Settlers Inn Casey (L), William Krystal (C) & One Mile Beach Noah (R)
From koalawrangler's gallery.

Up until August 2007, the hospital had been aflush with joeys; there were always one or two little orphans being left to grow and build up their "koala skills" in the safe environment of yard 6, pending release. Lady Nelson Woody, Belah Irwin and Oxley Lucky were residents in the joey yard when I started back in January 2007, soon to be joined by the delightfully frisky Links VTR and Ocean Kim and, later, the more demure joeys, Lake Christmas and Siren Gem.

But since Christmas and Kimmy were released in August last year, there had been a dearth of joeys at the hospital, leaving we poor vollies without a single joey to gawp at. Visitors and volunteers alike always like to see the babies, but it seemed that the joeys had "dried up" for a few months.

Then October came (the busiest month for admissions to the hospital). One joey arrived, then another, then two more! Lo and behold, the nursery yard was full again!

Settlers Inn Casey (more pics here)
The first joey to grace us was Casey, who was reported to the hospital by patrons of the Settlers Inn Tavern in October 2007. They had observed Casey in a palm tree near the beer garden and thought she looked a bit young to be out on her own. At only 2.4kg, Casey had probably been orphaned or just recently abandoned by her mother. Casey was found to be in great physical shape and so seemed to be managing well enough on her own...for now. She was near a busy road with quite a bit of unkoala-friendly construction going on nearby.

Generally, when a joey is about 12-18 months of age, the mother leaves the juvenile to make their own way in the world, but typically keeps a watchful eye from a nearby tree to see that the youngster is doing okay. We decided she would be better off placed in the joey yard where we could keep an eye on her progress. After a week or so she was found to be infested with ticks, which can cause anaemia if not attended to. Casey was then regularly checked for ticks and returned to her tree...this time with a squirt of the tick repellent usually used on dogs.

Oxley Holly (more pics here)
Casey was on her own for a few months when, in early January 2007, she was joined by Oxley Holly. We had received the startling report that a koala was walking along the busy Oxley Highway near the local high school with a joey riding on her back! Even more surprisingly, the koala was Oxley Westi, a koala who had come 11 months earlier with abnormally protruding eyes. At the time, it was suspected that she might also be carrying a pinkie - an unfurred joey. Westi's appearance now with joey in tow, proved this to have been the case. Oxley Holly was a healthy female joey weighing in at 2.25kg. Unfortunately, Westi was now completely blind and had to be euthanased. So Holly joined Casey in yard 6, like her, to grow in a safe environment before she can be released.

William Krystal (more pics here)
Less than two weeks later, another joey was admitted in rather interesting circumstances. A gentleman was leaving the pub one Saturday evening when he noticed, to his surprise, a small koala waiting at the lights on William Street in downtown Port Macquarie. The lights changed and apparently this young koala set off across the road. The gentlemen gathered up the joey and proceeded to cuddle her for the next two hours (don't try this at home!) before contacting the hospital. Krystal was likewise in fine condition, weighing 2.67kg, and joined the other two girls in yard 6.

One Mile Beach Noah (more pics here)
Finally the three girls were joined by a 2.7kg male joey transferred to us from our friends at the Native Animal Trust Fund in Newcastle. Noah's mother was hit by a car on Gan Gan Road in the precinct of Anna Bay, while Noah himself was rescued unharmed from nearby One Mile Beach. Although Noah had been well cared for in homecare, the NATF did not have the facilities to care for a growing joey. Like the rest of our brood, Noah just needs to finish his weigh gain, get climbing practice, and dehumanise prior to release.

Like any growing children, the joeys are currently eating the hospital out of house and home! Casey and Holly were initially sharing one bundle of leaf which is usually sufficient for one adult koala. When the other two joeys arrived, this was doubled to two bundles. In the mornings, the leaf pots would be stripped of their leaf, the tops mown down down by hungry joey jaws overnight. Recently, a small gunyah extension was erected in yard 6 to facilite the placement of extra leaf-pots to satisfy the appetites of these growing youngsters.

But who's who in the zoo? (which joey is which?)
The joeys are surprisingly easy to tell apart when you know what to look for. Noah has a soft sleepy look about him and his ears are less round and perky. But telling Noah from the three girls is easier than comparing ear shapes - the girls each have a green tag in their right ear, whereas Noah has no tag (he will be tagged in his left ear before release). If you get close enough you an also see that Noah has little furry testicles emerging.

Where the girls are concerned, it's a question of noses. Casey's nose is broader at the top than the base, while Holly has just the opposite - a broad base and narrower top. William Krystal's nose is narrower than both the the other girls and maintains a generally uniform width at top and bottom. Krystal also has pale grey fur, lighter than the other joeys. You can see what I mean in the pics below:

Oxley Holly
Nose bottom-heavy
Oxley Holly
From koalawrangler's gallery.

William Krystal
Nose uniformly narrow
William Krystal
From koalawrangler's gallery.

Aw, joeys...bless them!

Thursday, 14 February 2008

Every koalawrangler's worst nightmare

Well, it happened like this...

Being the Australia Day long weekend, the usual Saturday arvo crew were taking a break. As lots of people were pouring into Port Macquarie for the weekend, Port Macquarians were pouring out. There wasn't even a spare teamleader available to run the Saturday afternoon shift.

This might just be a job for....koalawrangler! I just did my first morning teamleading shift on Thursday which went well. I've also worked on a number of afternoon shifts so I know what's involved. There's no leaf-reading required of me or leaf prep required of the team; the bulk of the work is feeding, spraying leaf to freshen it, and topping up the water in the leaf pots.

Deb and I arrive at 1.30pm, which gives us time to inspect the yards. Not one but TWO joeys are down on the gunyah nibbling away. It's Oxley Holly and William Krystal! They look up at us from their luncheon for a moment, as if to say, "oh, it's only the humans", then promptly carry on eating...

Oxley Holly (top) & William Krystal
Oxley Holly (top) & William Krystal
From koalawrangler's gallery.

We ogle the joeys for a bit then go to take stock of which koalas are up or down so I know which feedpots to make up. Bonny's down, so is Tractive Golfer, but Granite Murray is way, way up his tree.

Inside I start mixing the formula up. Marie, who's giving today's walk-and-talk comes in to introduce herself. There are already a lot of people gathering outside for the 3pm tour outside the yards. Marie explains that she would prefer us to stagger the koala feeding; if we all began the feeding at the same time, some of the koalas would be finished their formula and back to snoozing by the time the group made it around to them. The idea of coinciding the walk-and-talk with the feeding is that the koalas are awake then, which tends to be more entertaining than watching koalas sleep!

So just as Marie is moving the tour group around to the first yard, Deb heads into feed Newport Bridge Gloria. Gloria is a recovering wet bottom. She was shifted outside from her unit in the ICU a few weeks ago. She's doing much better, her bottom is drying out and she's very bright and frisky, which is always a good sign.

Newport Bridge Gloria
Deb feeding Newport Bridge Gloria
From koalawrangler's gallery.

Marie has assembled her group outside the yard as Deb begins feeding Gloria. Unfortunately, Gloria has made her way down from the gunyah onto the ground, which is not optimal for feeding. It's better for the koala to be on the gunyay surrounded by leaf they can latch onto. As it is, Gloria is reaching out and trying to grab onto Deb's arm. She tries to lure Gloria back towards the gunyah, but all she's interested in is continuing to feed.

I'm watching this from the sidelines, outside the yard. I start thinking, "I really should go in there and lift Gloria back onto the gunyah". The other day during a rescue, I scrambled around on my haunches and plucked a koala off the dense branches of an orange tree, without a single scratch. I've also relocated a koala to the gunyah: Hamlyn Bev had attached herself to the metal ring around the tree in her yard, so I picked her up by the forearms as I'd been shown and deposited her easily on the gunyah.

So, technically, it should be no problem this time, right? I enter the yard just as Gloria takes another swipe at Deb who's got a couple of scratch-marks on her arm already. I get behind Gloria and lift her up effortlessly by the arms as I've watched handlers do numerous times, and, with koala in tow, make for the gunyah. Then things start to go pear-shaped.

I don't know why all my koalawrangler wisdom left me at that moment. I should at least have gotten a towel first to protect my arms in case I got a scratch.

The two previous times I'd handled a koala barehanded, I'd been lowering them: either into a bag or onto a low gunyah. This time, it was different. Gloria's gunyah was just too high for me to reach, so as I held her towards the beam she started scratching at me with her back legs. For some insane reason, I'd convinced myself that a koala would be more interested in getting onto the gunyah than biting me, but no, because biting me she was. Biting and scratching. Yow. I was actually really shocked at how hard she managed to bite down. Koalas spend a lot of time chewing leaf practically to a paste, so their jaw muscles are incredibly well developed. Lucky for me, Gloria's top teeth had connected with my fingernail rather than the fleshy part of my finger -- otherwise, she probably would have bitten straight through.

So I soon realise my brilliant tactics aren't working. I'm in pain! I quickly give up and lower Gloria back down to the ground. I don't drop her, but I do let her topple from my grasp as she nears the ground. All this with an audience. I can feel Marie, the guide, wincing, probably trying to imagine how to frame this to make me look less inept. Suffice it to say that I would gladly have the earth open up and swallow me (or have Gloria finish me off) at that moment, rather than endure the alternative of having to face the music in front of a rapt crowd.

What I do know is that I have to keep going. I can't lose momentum. I have to get Gloria onto the gunyah in one simple move now. Fortunately, Deb moves the stool over towards me, as I pluck up Gloria, stand on the stool and plop her on the top beam. Why couldn't it have gone this way the first time?


I replayed the event over and over in my mind. I felt so stupid that I expected the koala to try to grip onto the gunyah rather than resist whatever it was I was doing to her. If only I'd thought to jump onto a stool to begin with, or simply lift her onto the lower beam of the gunyah which I was easily above.

It was a learning experience alright. After I beat myself up about it for a while, I realised that you can't learn skills like animal handling without making a few mistakes, although I could have done without all those witnesses.

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

Today teamleader, tomorrow the world!

Hamlyn Bev
Hamlyn Bev wants out!
From koalawrangler's gallery.

I filled in as teamleader for the first time this week. Amanda is on holidays so I'm being 'her' for three whole Thursdays in a row.

I'd shadowed Amanda several times in the past and even then I'm not one to leave things to chance: I typed up a checklist spelling out everything I had to do, step-by-step.

7.01 Make sure alarm is off - check.
7.02 Turn on lights - check.
7.03 Make sure all koalas present and accounted for in ICU - check.
7.04 Unlock leaf shed - check.
7.05 Make cup of tea. Jiggle bag. Discard bag. Add milk. Check. Check Check. Check.
You think I'm kidding? I'm not kidding - it was painstakingly detailed, especially the part about the tea. I was leaving no room for error. The Idiot's Guide to Koalawrangler Teamleading - a must for every library.

Nothing was going to get stuffed up.

Not on my shift.

I even created a template in MS Word for me to use when copying down all the current koalas' names, yard numbers and formula requirements...complete with columns for charting the amount of the 3-4 varieties of leaf each koala had consumed over night (both fresh and recycled).

So it all went swimmingly.

I went round checking each yard one by one. In the joey yard, I counted three only joeys until, with delight, I noticed one little one asleep in the leaf down on the gunyah haloed in morning light. Someone had gotten up for a midnight snack and fallen asleep in the pantry. It was One Mile Beach Noah, an orphaned joey sent up to us by our friends at the Native Animal Trust Fund. They didn't have the facilities to care for a joey, while we have a fully equipped joey nursery with three other joeys to keep Noah company while he grows. When he reaches a suitable weight, he will be returned to his home at One Mile Beach.

I knew it was Noah since he's the only boy and so he doesn't have a tag in his right ear like the other three girls. When I discovered him there, he looked up at me with the groggiest expression - he was still in the land of nod.

There's been a significant change to yard 9: no Birthday Girl. Thanks to some new wonder drugs (well, wonderful as it turns out for her), Birthday Girl had recently gotten a new lease on leaf. With her newfound pain relief Birthday Girl would think, "Tall tree? No problem!" and, suddenly, no tree was too tall. After being a gunyah-dweller on the mend, she became the yard 9 tree-climber extraordinaire. The trouble was, by staying up in the tree, she wasn't getting her twice-daily formula, nor her daily medication which facilitated her climbing abilities in the first place. Furthermore, she missing out on her usual array of freshly trimmed leaf...

Something needed to be done. We needed, oh I don't know, a band of professional treeclimbers...and that's just what we found. These chaps generously gave of their time and skills, climbed, bagged and brought our Birthday Girl back to earth. She is now safely ensconced in yard 7 on her own, where she can easily continue her treatment. So Bonny Fire has all of yard 9 to herself...she doesn't seem to mind.

Hamlyn Bev
Hamlyn Bev wants out!
From koalawrangler's gallery.

After I've checked all the koalas' leaf and poo, it's time to make up the formula. I've done this many times before, so it's a straightforward process. Jan, Jarred and an international vollie, Lisa, is there. Trish arrives and automatically heads for yard 9, somewhat taken aback about the new "separate bed" arrangement for Bonny Fire and Birthday Girl (who've been bunking together for simply years now).

Hamlyn Bev
Hamlyn Bev, chillin'
From koalawrangler's gallery.

Robyn is supervisor today and, as there's little treatment work to be done, she's happy for me to lend a hand in the yards. I join Jan in yard 10 where there are currently four koalas: Tractive Golfer, Oxley Denise, Hamlyn Bev and Granite Murray.

The beautiful Hamlyn Bev (who is back with us after being virtually raised at the hospital as a joey) is presently sitting on the ground, after having spent the last 10 minutes gambolling about her yard, trying to drum up a feed. She's never backwards about letting you know she wants formula. Apparently the cheeky little sausage bit Peter on the knee the other day to hurry up her tucker... Little scamp! Of course, she can do no wrong in our eyes...

I'm glad to say today's shift went well. Phew!

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

Freeing the Foxie lady (again)

Newport Bridge Gloria
Newport Bridge Gloria
From koalawrangler's gallery.

When I drove in this morning, there was a koala trap set up around one of the towering gums that overhangs yard 9. What's that about, I wonder?

I see there's been a koala shuffle afoot in the last week: the koala in yard 2 is NOT Warrego Martin. All I can tell at first glance is that it's one of the girls, I'm just not sure which yet. I'm hoping the change means good news for Martin, rather than the worst kind...

Sure enough, when I get inside I learn that Warrego Martin has been released. Yay! Regatta Lanaye has been shifted along one into Martin's old spot and little Newport Bridge Gloria has moved from her inside unit to yard 3.

Just as I suspected the koala trap outside is for Birthday Girl. Her vigour has taken something of a dramatic upward turn of late. She used to be almost glued to the spot on one of the gunyahs, only occasionally limping along to seek out fresh leaf (such as in the video below).

Birthday Girl suffers from debilitating arthritis but has been receiving ongoing treatment (and much TLC) from the koala hospital staff. Lately, they've been giving her new medication that works so well, Birthday Girl seems to be convinced she can walk on water (or at least climb pretty high, which is more usual). It reminds me a little of the 1985 movie Cocoon in which a bunch of elderly people discover a pool filled with alien cocoons. After swimming in it, it has a 'fountain of youth' effect on them and they find themselves capable of doing things they hadn't done for years. In Birthday Girl's case she's even been sighted flirting outrageously with Roto Randy, the rogue male who hangs about the grounds looking out for any available females. I even heard him serenading her with his mating call...

Birthday Girl and Roto Randy (we think)
Birthday Girl and Roto Randy
From koalawrangler's gallery.

The trouble is that she's been missing her twice-daily supplements and not getting her usual supply of leaf. There's also a concern that she only seems capable of moving in one direction - up. She doesn't seem to have a reverse gear...

There's some sad, if expected, news. Ocean Joseph, the sweet-tempered male koala who sustained a fractured pelvis in a car accident, has been euthanased. A major concern was that he didn't seem to be urinating. It turned out that the fracture had occurred in his sacrum (a large, triangular bone at the base of the spine). As this healed, it created a callous which blocked or pinched the nerve that instructs the bladder to release urine; while the nerve responsible for telling the bladder to hold urine was still operational. Consequently, the urine had backed up in his ureters, distending his bladder out of all proportion and damaging his kidneys. Even if his mobility issues had been remedied, the nerve damage prevented this essential urination function. Joseph was a special favourite around here, being affectionately dubbed "Gessepe" by Peter, one of the regular teamleaders. Here's a video of Peter fetching the acquiescent Joseph from his gunyah for a weigh-in.

It goes that way: some sad news, some good news. Granite Murray has been moved outside to the circular yard in yard 10. This is Tractive Golfer's turf. Hopefully, these two alpha males can temporarily share the space amicably. I've said it before and I'll say it again - there's nothing more rewarding than moving a koala to an outside yard after they've been stuck inside in ICU for treatment for several weeks. Once they're outside, it usually means they've done the hard yards and are now in rehab mode in preparation for release.

Newport Bridge Gloria was was moved outside to yard 3 is one we're hopeful of seeing released. This is the second time she has been brought in with wet bottom symptoms, the last time was a year ago. This time around her bottom still has a red tinge but it looks dry. It takes a while for the tail fur to clean itself up after wet bottom has struck.

Hindman Foxie is another koala we've seen in the hospital a few times. Her left eye is blind and completely clouded over. Twice in the last two months, we have been alerted to there being a koala with an obviously damaged eye. Conjunctivitis is a sign of chlamydia so we are just as concerned to investigate sore eyes since wet bottoms as koalas with one or the other still carry the same bacteria.

In Foxie's case however, her right eye is quite healthy and she's in pretty good shape for her age. Whenever she hears the Koala Hospital truck pull up, she's probably thinking, "oh, not you lot again!".

I accompany Peter to release Foxie near Kooloonbung Creek, an area away from the road with lots of gum trees and other dense foliage. When we put back the lid, she continues to sit in her basket for a few moments while she takes it all in. Then she's off, bounding up the tree for several feet until she does the customary koala look-back, that seems to say "I'm okay, you can go now!"

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

Hospital for...possums? no. 2

I was coming up the hospital driveway the other day, driving slowly as you tend to do since there are wild koalas who live in the grounds. I noticed something smack dab in the middle of the driveway. It could easily have been a piece of bark, but something made me look twice and I realised that it was a possum lying face-first on the ground.

I just assumed it was dead.

I parked the car and went over for a closer look. I prodded it gently and was shocked and delighted to find that it moved. It was still alive. I turned tail and ran full pelt up the hospital building, blurting out to Amanda as soon as I had her in my sight that there was a possum out there needing our help.

We grabbed towels and dashed out to the rescue! Amanda gently picked the little one up. It was completely docile, obviously in shock after its fall, and had a gash on its chest.

The hospital supervisor wouldn't be in for half an hour so we did what we thought best, filling a hot-water bottle and preparing some hydrating formula. It was a warm, humid morning but the possum was cold; it had probably been lying there during the cool hours of early morning.

The water bottle was a bit of a failure (it leaked), but the possum did accept some formula. We wrapped it in a towel to keep it warm and placed it in a basket pending Cheyne's arrival.

Cheyne knew just what to do, of course. The hot-water bottle was necessary to increase the animal's temperature. It wouldn't take much liquid while it was still cold and in shock. I prepared the bottle (a non-leaking one this time) using boiling water from the urn, covered it in a fetching knitted cover and placed in near but not next to the possum.

Later during the shift, Cheyne reported that the possum had perked up and had polished off most of a pot of fluid.

Sadly, though, the combination of a probable cat attack and a night on the cold ground proved too much for this little patient who passed away soon after.

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.

Wednesday, 13 February 2008

Holy cuteness, Batman, it's Granite Murray!

Holy Cuteness, the blog dedicated to documenting the cutest critters in the animal kingdom, has taken a shine to our Granite Murray.

See the Holy Cuteness post below:

Click here to see even more photos of the handsome Granite Murray.