Thursday, 2 September 2010

Precious Georgie Girl

This beautiful little creature is Georgie, a tiny baby koala who was orphaned and came into the care of Sue Swain, one of our friends at the Hunter Koala Preservation Society near Port Stephens, north of Sydney.

Georgie weighed only 212 grams when she came into Sue's care after Georgie's Mum had died as the result of a dog attack. The mother was a very young koala herself and it is believed that Georgie was probably her first joey.

Cheyne and the other staff at the Koala Hospital have had a close relationship over the years with Sue. Sue is one of those cherished people who cares for orphaned wildlife - sometimes a couple of koala joeys at a time - which means round-the-clock feeding.

Over the last week, Cheyne and Sue have been conferring by email over little Georgie's progress, in particular concerning the acquisition of a special substance called 'pap', which young joeys must eat before they can progress to eating leaf. As crazy as this may sound, this pap is a form of maternal faeces. It is produced in the caecum (pron. seecum), the blind gut in the koala's complex digestive system. And the substance is more vital to the early progress of a young joey than colostrum is to a newborn human.

The importance of pap is that it inoculates the joey's developing gut with the microflora necessary to digest the eucalyptus leaf - which will become its primary source of food. Without this microflora, the leaf is toxic to the koala. If pap is not available, poo shakes are made up for the joey to drink. Just as they sound, these shakes are made by mixing the fresh droppings of a healthy koala - male or female - with a non-dairy formula supplement. Sometimes the poo shakes are enough to provide the microflora; in other cases only pap will do.

Georgie was fed poo shakes regularly while Sue desperately tried to source fresh pap. It may sound gruesome, but the only way pap can be acquired artificially is by harvesting it from the caecum of a koala that has recently died. The premise is a bit like organ donation in human medicine; if an otherwise healthy koala is killed in a motor vehicle accident, at least it is possible for that animal to donate their special pap to nurture a growing joey in desperate need of the magic mixture to survive. Pap from a male or female koala will do.

In the past, Sue has looked to the Koala Hospital to provide pap for joeys she has had in care, and, likewise, Sue has collected and delivered pap for other licenced carers who have joeys in need of it. Also, because the Koala Hospital has a dedicated joey yard - the climbing kindergarten - Sue sends her joeys to us just prior to release. They get lots of practice climbing in the joey yard, and, after months of hand-rearing, soon return to their wild koala ways before they are released.

Caring for tiny joeys can be the most enriching but also the most heart-breaking part of wildlife rehabilitation. Unfortunately, in Georgie's case, despite everyone's best efforts, no pap could be obtained for Georgie and she did did not survive. This is a sad story, but it is important that people understand how much orphaned joeys struggle to reach necessary milestones in human care.

If you would like to make a much-needed donation to help the Hunter Koala Preservation Society with their valuable work, please click here. They are in need of funds to support their day-to-day operations in koala care and rescue. These include: an Ambulance, Veterinary medications, tests, research and updating veterinary equipment, Rescue apparatus, Rehabilitation sheds, Leaf storage sheds, Education campaigns, Buying and planting koala food trees, Rehabilitation areas/land, Establishing new and existing areas that sustain koalas, Environmental enrichment programs.

Friday, 27 August 2010

Poor Coastlands Steve!

My heart really went out to Coastlands Steve today. Firstly, it’s the second time he’s been in that, that I’m aware of. Last time, he was hit by a car and spent considerable time in homecare under the watchful eye of Joyce. Now he's back in the Hospital again. And today, he was a bit out of sorts.

He was missing from his yard when Pete did his morning rounds. At first, he feared Steve had taken off into Macquarie Nature Reserve, but, no, he was much closer at hand. He had travelled from his own yard 1 to yard 3 just across the way.

Yard 3 is home to Amira Ruby, a gorgeous little female koala who delighted us with her placid demeanour and range of delightfully coloured bandages during her time in ICU.

When Pete found Steve in Ruby's yard, Steve was looking a bit sorry for himself. He'd scraped a bit of 'bark' off his nose - possibly from colliding with the colourbond fence during his escape attempt. The fences are positioned at least 2 metres apart, since that is the maximum distance a koala can jump. However, it IS mating season again. I know this for sure as I heard our local wild koala, whom we've dubbed Bonky Bill, letting his mating call ring out through the neighbourhood for the first time this season. Spring is around the corner and so is mating.

Perhaps Steve thought Amira Ruby looked like a bit of alright. Pete suspects that - although she looks like butter wouldn't melt in her mouth - Ruby probably put up a bit of a fight. So not only did Steve scrape his nose in the process, he also probably got a bit of biffo for his efforts when he got there.

Poor old Steve! No wonder he was looking a little sorry for himself this morning. So I made sure I picked him an EXTRA big fluffy bundle of leaf and decked his gunyah out like it was a Christmas tree.

I got to see loads of other koalas I didn't expect to today. Newport Bridge Gloria has been back in for a while, but as she's been sharing the expanses of yard 9 with Birthday Girl, I've barely seen her down on ground level.

Today, she came down to visit and she looked just like I remembered her. We have a bit of a 'history', you see. I first encountered Gloria during her time on the University of Sydney research trials back in 2007. She made her way through the treatment, but had been in a number of other times since. During one particularly memorable visit, I made the brilliant decision to transfer Gloria from the ground to the gunyah to make it easier for a volunteer to feed her. It all went pear-shaped. She bit me...HARD...luckily connecting with my fingernail, or else she would probably have bit through my finger. And, worse still, I kind of, well, let her drop out of my grasp as the pain was just excruciating! Gloria was fine, she just sort of tumbled free and made her own way up on to the gunyah. Phew!

Today, there were no such dramas fortunately. She looked keen to see me but I'm not deluding myself; it's only because she mistook my camera for a feed pot.

She followed me all over the place, to the point that I was concerned she might leap on me. Fortunately Peter arrived with a basket for transporting koalas. Gloria was to be released this morning! Peter showed he how koala handling was really done by effortlessly plucking Gloria off the gunyah and placing her in the basket.

Gloria has been admitted 8 times already - most recently for motor vehicle accidents; fingers crossed she still has another life left.

Another koala I didn't expect to see today was Oxley Kaylee. Since having her rear left leg amputated, she has been doing marvelously well.

I almost never see her down from her tree. Brooke had cleaned her yard and I set about preparing his leaf. Usually I spray the leaf before placing it in the pots. It's trickier having to juggle a bunch of leaf as you spray it, but it's preferable to showering the koala! In Kaylee's case, she was nowhere to be seen so I popped the last bunch in the pot and turned to fire up the hose. But in the time it took for me to turn around, there she was! She can get up quite a speed on only one back leg! It's incredible watching her thigh joint rotate under her fur as she moves about.

Another old friend is back in ICU. Lake Private was in with us back in 2007. He was found wandering about, disoriented, so he's back with us for a little R&R. Pete asked me to feed him and he lapped it up like he remembered it well. Hopefully, he will get some energy back after a little rest and TLC at the Hospital.

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

Saturday, 26 June 2010

Noni Houdini

Cole Porter might have had Lighthouse Noni in mind back in the day when he penned the classic song "Don't Fence Me In".

Of course, no koala *wants* to be confined to a fenced yard, let alone an indoor unit, as is the case in our ICU. But treatment at the Koala Hospital involves something of a balancing act between giving koalas a little of the kind of freedom they enjoy in the wild, but not giving them so much freedom that it gets in the way of their treatment.

Some koalas are a flight risk, plain and simple. One such koala is Lighthouse Noni. The two times she's been admitted in as many years, Noni's shown nothing but eagerness to be rid of the place.

Like all our admissions, Noni was named for the area of Port Macquarie she came from - in her case, Lighthouse Beach - but "lighthouse" is an especially apt descriptor for Noni - she likes to be up high and out of reach!

18 June 2008
This is Noni perched up high near the roof beams of her unit, after her admission two years ago.

Lighthouse Noni
From brokenpuzzle's gallery.

27 August 2008
After her initial period of treatment, she was moved to outdoor rehabilitation yard where she preferred hanging out well above us mere mortals.

Lighthouse Noni
From brokenpuzzle's gallery.

6 June 2010
Noni was admitted again a few weeks ago with a recurrence of her chlamydial infection. I was talking with Peter where we cut leaf outside the ICUs on Sunday morning, when suddenly something caught my eye... It was a koala who seemed to be in no particular hurry, but was strolling about the beams near the roof! And, of course, it was Lighthouse Noni!

The doors to each indoor ICU unit are kept shut and latched. During morning cleaning when the volunteer must make multiple trips in and out of the unit (sweeping, mopping, laying towels, laying newspaper, replenishing leaf), the door is usually just pulled closed. This is generally enough to deter *most* koalas. But, Noni, it seemed, had found a new use for her scimitar claws - to prise open her door and escape! Up there for thinking, Noni!

Lighthouse Noni
From koalawrangler's gallery.

We haven't had such a wiley escape artist at the Hospital since the likes of O'Briens Fiona (whom we nicknamed "FiFi Houdini") because of her extraordinary number of escape attempts. Here is a bit of a blurry picture of Fiona doing exactly what I suspect Noni must have done - wiggling the door open with her claws!

I reckon that Noni was just checking up on our progress preparing her morning supply of fresh leaf! Peter quickly went and got Noni's pot of nutritional supplement and a ladder. I love the photo below, which looks as though we might have hoped that Noni mind climb down it of her own accord and return to her unit on her own. But, no, Peter trotted up the ladder and got Noni's attention with some food.

From koalawrangler's gallery.

Noni seemed perfectly happy to take the rest of her formula that way. It was like she was saying that her room service was a little late this morning!

Next Peter set about preparing Noni's bag in order to return her to her unit. Each koala has a dedicated bag to prevent any spread of infection between animals.

Lighthouse Noni
From koalawrangler's gallery.

Rather than bag her completely, however, Peter just used the bag to prevent Noni from biting him while detaching her. You can see her dangling free as I quickly pocket my camera and set about taking Noni from Peter and returning her to her unit.

Once back under lock and key, I finished feeding Noni her formula and replenished her unit with fresh leaf. She seemed to settle down after that.

Noni's gotten herself quite a reputation in these last few weeks. The other day, she leapt from her gunyah and landed on Peter's feet as he stood in the doorway.

It's obviously become such a common occurrence that Cheyne's put up a warning sign for unsuspecting vollies:

From koalawrangler's gallery.

20 June 2010
Last weekend, I happened to chance upon Emma helping Brooke service Noni's unit. Emma held up a towel to discourage her, but Noni still made a run for it!

The sooner we ship this one out, the sooner we can all rest! Fingers crossed Noni Houdini gets better soon.

Click here to view more snaps of Lighthouse Noni.

Sunday, 6 June 2010

June Gum Tips out now!

Click on the cover above to download (5MB) the latest issue of Gum Tips, the Koala Hospital newsletter!

Saturday, 10 April 2010

Fluffy earmuffs and Kempsey Carolina's doppelgänger

I spent a bit of time with Oxley Carl last Sunday. He’s been moved to an outside yard after a week or so in ICU. He's old and debilitated and his ears reflect this. Healthy koalas usually have big, round, perky ears. Poor Carl’s ears drooped so flat against his head, he looked a bit like he was wearing fluffy earmuffs.

When koalas are placed in the outside yards, they automatically look a lot happier. Perhaps it’s the way that the sunlight dapples their fur. I wonder if koalas also absorb vitamin D from the sun, which helps ward off depression in humans? In any case, he was a lot more receptive to taking his nutritional supplement, eagerly grabbing at my hand. He managed to unburden of me of the syringe at one point. It must be a Carl thing. The last koala to do that was Nowendoc Carl, another syringe-grabber. It’s amazing how dexterous a koala’s hand is, even with all those claws. Like a stenographer who can still manage to type 80 words per minute despite having inch-long fingernails. I suppose on koalas they are made to select their preferred leaf with surgical accuracy.

He drank every drop of his formula and then proceeded to lick the pot and then moved on to lapping the water from his leaf pot! It’s behaviour they noticed when he was in ICU and have been monitoring. According to the Hospital Supervisor, the fact that Carl is also piddling a lot can mean that his kidneys are failing :( Although, on a positive note, his blood tests have not shown renal failure yet. Koalas often do not show poor blood results till they are really crook, so here's hoping.

I dropped into the Koala Hospital again during the week to look in at the progress in a few of the furry patients.

Hamlyn Daniel, the koala rescued from my street, looks like a new man! Before Easter, his nose was in poor shape. His left nostril was split through to his mouth and hung in an ungainly fashion. It meant that you could really hear him chewing in an amplified way when he ate.

They wanted to wait until his schnoz dried out a bit before surgery. When I saw him a few days ago, Daniel looked a million dollars, as you can see from these before/after pictures. Before too long he should be transferred to an outside yard to continue his rehabilitation. Then, I should expect to see him nibbling eucalyptus in a tree very near our place in the near future.

On that note, I recently noticed that the leaves on a beautiful big gum tree in our street have turned brown. It might be autumn, but as eucalyptus trees are not deciduous, ALL eucalypts are evergreen, so any eucalypt that loses its leaves is one sick tree It could be because it is not getting any water or the opposite – it’s in super soggy ground and the roots are drowning.

So I knew the tree was probably dying, I was just not sure why. I spoke to Milicia, the Hospital’s ecological consultant, about the possibility of its getting examined by a tree doctor. After investigating, it turned out that the tree had been hit by lightning – not once but twice! It was well and truly dead. It’s going to be removed by the council, but the Hospital will arrange to plant a sapling in its place.

Emerald Downs Barbara has already been moved to an outside recovery yard. Appropriately, it’s yard 5, which was occupied for some years by long-time resident, Kempsey Carolina. Kempsey was also blind but had her right eye removed, not her left - so Barbara could be Kempsey's mirror image! I’m not sure yet of Barbara’s recovery status: whether she’ll become the ‘new’ Kempsey, as it were, or whether the eyesight in her right eye will improve enough for her to be released. Certainly, yard 5 must have had some good Feng Shui because Kempsey spent some long, happy years there.

I'm also delighted to report that the whimsically named Waterlily Sweetpea has been released!

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

A curious thing we have in common with koalas

I had an email from a researcher at the University of Massachusetts whose speciality is the formation of patterns on surfaces, such as fingerprints.

The reason he contacted me is that he wanted to use the photo I’d taken of the sole of a koala’s foot during an ultrasound.

Yet another thing that makes koalas unique is that their fingerprints tend to incorporate more dots or dimples than ridges. Amazingly, their fingerprints look very similar to human fingerprints to untrained eye and are unique to each animal, just like in humans. You can read more about it here.

I’d like to see THAT wend its way into a forensic crime series:
“Sorry, but this fingerprint isn’t human. It’s marsupial. Phascolarctos cinereus, to be precise. The suspect you’re looking for is a koala!”

Click here to view more koala hospital snaps.

Sunday, 28 March 2010

I'm in ICU!

Yes, it's been an appallingly long time since I've written a blog post. I've been a bit koala-d out from doing Gum Tips (the quarterly newsletter, which you can download here), maintaining the Hospital's facebook page, and planning the new architecture for the Hospital computers.

But today I was just plain old koalawrangler on the Sunday morning shift. It was a beautiful Spring day, a bit muggy but sunny and with no sign of rain.

I read the whiteboard on the way in and saw that Crescent Head Jimmy (cover boy of our March Gum Tips) was now sharing the joey yard with Roto Mikki. Barb, who was Jimmy's home-carer, and whose other home-care juvenile, Bea, is now a permanent resident, must be suffering empty-nest syndrome. I could see her over in yard 9 cleaning up in Bea's yard.

Emma (the 'international' vollie) was showering herself in aeroguard - apparently she'd picked 16 ticks off herself last week and was put on antibiotics. She was taking no chances this week. She and Kerrie took yard 10, Alexi and Alison were in the aviaries with Biggy and Littly, and Brooke and the usual Emma were in the front yards with Golfer and Kaylee.

I was left with the four koalas in ICU. First off, I fed Waniora Jonah, a very handsome young adult koala with wet bottom. Peter wanted me to distract him with food while he gave him his jab.

As I was feeding him, he found myself marvelling at how big his nose seemed. He liked his formula - even if about a quarter of it dribbled onto his fur and I had to wipe it off afterwards with a wet flannel.

I was glad to see that Emerald Downs Barbara was still there. She was the koala with bilateral corneal ulcers whose unit I had serviced a few weeks ago. She was almost completely blind in both eyes, and although koalas rely more on smell than sight for seeking food, it doesn't help for avoiding dogs and cars. I was a bit worried that she might be euthanased the following week, but here she was!

Barbara's left eye had been completely removed and apparently some eyesight remained in her right eye, although it still looked cloudy.

She wandered down gunyah to the bottom rung and finally joined me on the floor. I lured her with a gum sprig back onto the gunyah, still at the bottom. She seemed happy to stay there, so I swept and mopped around her as she sniffed the air. When Chris returned with the leaf, I put a pot beside her and one above so she could make up her own mind. See video of Barb below:

Oxley Carl was a elderly koala who had come in quite debilitated. He made a groan as he moved around the gunyah, possibly due to being backed up in the digestive department.

Barb (human not koala) said his teeth were ground back, which is often how older koalas end up. It means they have trouble getting adequate nutrition in the wild because their teeth can't keep up with the amount of leaf they need to process each day to survive. Barb had put aside some tips for Carl that she thought he might like.

Carl was doddery just like a little old man. I tried to feed him some formula but he really wasn't interested. He just pulled his head back and away from me like I had simply moved too far into his 'personal space'. He nearly lost balance and grabbed the gunyah post to steady himself. So I didn't try to force him.

The last koala in ICU was one I knew something about. Two weeks earlier had had driven past a Koala Hospital crew erecting a koala trap around a tree in Hamlyn Drive, just around the corner from where I live.

The story was a little unclear, the local utility workers claimed to have seen an injured koala in the tree and nearby residents saw blood on the asphalt. The koala might have taken a tumble (which is unusual in well koalas). The koala was high up in the tree and so Peter and crew were setting up a trap consisting of corflute signs and a cage with some leaf in it. I got out of my car and asked, somewhat unhelpfully, if they needed a big piece of cheese for the trap.

I checked the trap myself a few times that day, but the koala was still sky-high. Then, when I was in ICU, there he was: Hamlyn Daniel.

He had certainly sustained some nasty injuries to his face. But he'd had more than just a little 'bark' off (as they say in the biz). His right nostril look like it had been split open. Instead of falling from his tree, it was now thought he might have been hit by a car and returned to his tree to 'lick his wound's, as it were. Now, he was happily eating away at his leaf, but it was the noisiest chewing I had ever heard - no doubt because his poor lip and nose were gaping a bit.

Daniel had already had some of his wounds sewn up and was scheduled to get his nose stitched up properly after Easter (they were waiting for it to dry out a bit first).

Otherwise, he looked okay, and should be much better in a few weeks after his surgery. I hope I'll be seeing him back around the trees in Hamlyn Drive in no time!

Click here to view more of today's Koala Hospital snaps.

Sunday, 31 January 2010

Where's Barry?

The first thing I notice upon returning to my blog is that the t-shirt I'm wearing in the masthead photo is very very blue. I had a fit of housewife brilliance the other week and decided the only way to get the brown dirt and green eucalyptus stains out of said shirt was to soak it in bleach. I promptly forgot about it and - hey presto! - I found myself with one pale lilac shirt, with glimmers of blue here and there. Sort of a batik effect. And wouldnt' you know it, the stains did not shift at all. Now, if anything, they're just more prominent because the shirt is now lighter.

But enough about me!

I worked the morning shift today and was allocated to yard 10 where I've been for the last few Sundays.

Peering into Westhaven Barry's yard, it's a case of "Where's Barry?". He's not on the gunyah that I can see, nor up his little tree, nor scurrying about the yard. Often when you can't see them, they're parked directly behind the gate, a bit like a small furry footman. But not this time. I ventured into the yard to inspect the gunayh in case he's tucked into (or, tucking into, more like) a spray of leaf.

Then I look up. Barry's ornamenting the centre of his umbrella. It's the perfect tree, with equally spaced branches that make it easy to climb and wedge yourself in.

Westhaven Barry

Here's the video:

So Matt didn't get fed his nutritional formula today, since he couldn't be asked to come down. And I did ask him. Over and over. I reckon that observing the yard volunteers at the Koala Hospital mustn't be that dissimilar to watching patients ouside a mental health facility: we potter around our yards, picking up twigs and poop and nattering away to our allocated koala - a long involved albeit very one-sided conversation. Like watching someone you think might have 'a few kangaroos loose in the top paddock', only to realise that they're chattering away on a bluetooth headset.

Then there's young Kennedy Tristan. I remember the day he came in. It was November and he'd been hit by not one but two cars. He looked awful, with blood coming from his eyes.

Kennedy Tristan

But he made a rapid recovery and has been under observation in yard 10 for several weeks now. He has his own tree so that he maintains his climbing strength. He doesn't come down all that often, so he generally misses out on his formula. Today, though, he came down and was looking about himself rather insistently.

I made up some formula and went into his yard. And the chase was on! He scampered down from the gunyah and ran around the yard after me. I genuinely feared that if I slowed down, he might try to climb me. Finally, he jumped back onto his tree and I started drawing some formula up into the syringe. Apparently, I wasn't fast enough, however, as Tristan started hooting the traditional male bellow. It was remarkable seeing him do it up close. I managed to catch the tail end of it on video. It always sounds disembodied, like it's coming from somewhere else.

Then when I came to feeding him, he was soooo pushy. I couldn't get it in him fast enough; half of it ended up on his chin and shoulder:

Kennedy Tristan

After he finished, he took off up the tree again, leaving me feeling, well, a little used actually :)

Inside the hospital there was a bit of action going on. The supervisor was in, as well as some of the teamleader heavyweights, which is unusual for a Sunday. It turns out that they were off to Point Plomer where there have been bushfires this last week. Today was the first time wildlife rescuers were allowed onto the fireground, so Cheyne, Amanda, Judy and Peter were rigging themselves up in fireproof overalls and heading out there.

Barb was in to grab some leaf for her two homecare joeys. She's been rearing little orphaned Jimmy Barnes, who is only about 9 months old (ie three months out of the pouch). Settlement Point Bea has also been home with Barb these least two weeks as she'd been losing weight.

I asked Barb if she ever puts the two joeys together. Usually, she said, Bea was out in her own aviary, but owning to the hot weather she had brought her inside a few times and put her in front of the fan. Bea is about 2 years old now, and unlike other juvenile koalas of her age, she is happy to sit in a towel-lined basket with her front hands over the lip of the basket Kilroy-was-here style, just staring at Barb. This points to how NOT like a 'normal' koala she is. We suspect brain damage owing to her fall to the oyster rocks, which is what brought her into us in the first place.

Barb said when she put Jimmy in with Bea, he started 'eee'ing and squealing. He didn't like it. Barb reckons it's just that Jimmy's not interested in any older-lady cougar koalas!

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