13 July 2013
I finally - FINALLY - got to cuddle a koala. But first....
I bought a camera! YAY! Because I couldn't possibly go visit a koala sanctuary without a camera, right? Otherwise, how could I share the wonder of koalaness with all of you? So, after about an hour of trying cameras and settling on one and the store only having the demo model and on and on, I finally settled on a Sony Cyber-Shot, which has an 8x zoom, built-in macro for close ups, really nice resolution, quick focus and shooting (no lag time), and almost best of all, the battery can be charged via a USB cable - so I don't have to deal with the charger having only an Aussie plug. And, BEST of all, I had a choice of black or pink. Guess which one I chose?
So after I bought the camera, I found the bus out to Lone Pine Koala Sanctuary - established the year my mom was born, of all things, so that made it kind of special for me.
Their website is www.koala.net - check them out, you can adopt a koala yourself!
Anyway, the place is set up almost like a koala kibbutz, if that makes sense.
The koalas are raised there in a protected environment. Joeys stay with their mamas til a certain age, then they move to the Kindergarten enclosure, where they grow up with other joeys in their age group.
When the koalas
reach "working age" (whatever age that is - but trust me, they work!) the koalas are moved to the main enclosure. These are the koalas who are used for the cuddling and photo shoots with sappy tourists like me who just want to hold a koala.
So - we line up to buy a ticket to hold a koala. We go stand on another line. The group in front of me is next in line - but they have a little girl, maybe six or seven years old - so the koala carer says she'll get a little koala for her, and asks the next adult to come up. Me! They have me leave my sunglasses and camera to the side, because you really need both hands to hold a koala. I stand on the footprints, and they tell me I have to be the koala's tree. Well, okay, I do a yoga pose called tree, I can do this!
Cradle hands about waist high. Stand very still, no sudden movements. Quiet voice. Stable and stationary, feet growing into the ground.
I'm handed a koala, his tush sitting in my cradled hands. And koalas automatically cuddle, as if the person is their tree.
I melt inside. I am holding about 10 kg (20+ lbs) of solid cuteness, who snuggles up against me like a big heavy baby. I'm told that this is Fitzroy. I quietly greet him, saying hello and telling him my name is Phebe. He cuddles his head under my chin, his fur soft and warm. And he smells like gum and eucalyptus trees - herbal and tangy and sweet and slightly like turpentine, all mixed together in koala perfume. I oooh and aaaah at him, enjoying the bliss of the koala hold, as the photographer tells me to look at the camera and smile. I'm enjoying this koala cuddle too much to be interrupted by the photo shoot, and it shows in my face. But the professional shot gets a smile, my camera gets a few of the Schwartz "put away the camera" face, and all too soon I have to hand Fitzroy back. I don't want to, I want to run away with this warm snuggly furball, but, well, I also don't want to go to jail for koala-napping so I hand him back.
So, Fitzroy is one of the working koalas. That's his job, to be cute and cuddly and photogenic. To melt hearts and be an ambassador to the koala kingdom. To spread koala world peace.
Seriously, if someone could gather together all the world leaders who are fighting, bring them to Australia, and have each one hold a koala for a while, they'd absorb the zen of koala Nirvana and quit fighting. There is something so sweet and calming and peaceful about the world of the koala, a vegetarian animal who wants nothing but leaves and sleep and a tree branch to hold. How can life be bad when those are your only needs? When you have a naturally cute face, and everyone expects you to be roly-poly round, with a heavy tush? Other than natural enemies like dingoes and dogs, and humans taking away their habitat, they have a fairly simple and mellow life.
Okay, back to the kibbutz model - once the working koalas get old, they move from the main enclosure to the retirement enclosure. In the wild, koala life expectancy is maybe 12 years or so. In captivity (and yes, this sanctuary is captivity, no matter how well they are cared for) koalas live up to 17-20 years. In fact, there was one koala who was 21, and the oldest koala they had passed away at age 23. They don't have a rescue center, they focus on breeding and maintaining a healthy koala population.
Of course, there were some emus, wombats, echidnas, wallabies, and kangaroos - and I visited them briefly.
But who has eyes for anything else when they can hold a koala??
The professional photo, small size (from their website so not great resolution):