Thursday, July 4, 2013

Visiting the Koala Hospital – It’s a Mitzvah!

4 July 2013

I spent my morning at the Koala Hospital in Port Macquarie, NSW.  They’re the place that rescues, saves, and rehabilitates koalas from all up and down the east coast of Australia.  They have a koala ambulance, they educate the public about things they can do to help koalas in their community, and they take in about 200-300 injured or abandoned koalas every year.  Every year!  It’s enough to make you cry.

Some of the koalas are injured by cars, or dogs, or who knows what.  Others are injured in the many brush fires that Australia is prone to – and it’s amazing how many koalas are saved after they’re found with burns from a fire.  Baby koalas (joeys) are sometimes abandoned, usually because something happened to the mother.  And there are normal koala illnesses, as well as problems with aging.  Because koalas sleep so many hours in a curled up position, they’re prone to scoliosis and other spinal problems as they age.  If they develop an infection, the carers have to be very careful about giving antibiotics, which can kill off the intestinal bacteria that enables a koala to survive on eucalyptus and gum leaves.  So it’s all very complicated and takes specialized care.

Only part of the hospital is open for public viewing, and that’s the pens where koalas are outside, recuperating and being rehabilitated, prior to release back into the wild.  The indoor part is the intensive care unit, surgery, post-op, all that – the part that I really wouldn’t want to see, because it’s so difficult to think about these adorable and sweet little animals being in pain and suffering.  
The koalas I saw outside were a few who, for one reason or another, won’t be released back to their home areas – one has severe scoliosis, another had to have a leg amputated (but she still was up at the top of her tree), and so forth.  And most were sound asleep except Barry, featured in these photos – he was wide awake at 10 AM and was eating and posing for photos.

And then the joeys – imagine normal koala cuteness multiplied by about 100.  These little guys were just little chubby balls of fur with cute little baby faces pasted on – they were whatever is beyond adorable!  There were three joeys, two boys and one girl, all in the same pen – 
one came  
hopping down the tree, backwards, little roly-poly body bouncing along as he/she clung to the tree with those long sharp claws.  It climbed over the roof of the feeding area, climbed down, and proceeded to eat the leaves set up for breakfast.  We oooohed and aaaahed over the little guy – and then another baby woke up, stretched way up in the tree, and came bouncing down as well – he/she backed down into the feeding area and bumped Joey #1, who took umbrage at being bumped out of the feeding loft and scampered back up the tree, curling up between a few branches and falling asleep again, back to looking like a tiny ball of fluff sitting way up in the tree.  Joey #2 was okay with being the only one eating, and he/she buried itself in the
leaves and ate for over 20 minutes – I finally had to leave!  I talked to it and it would periodically stick its head out of the leaves and look at me, as if paying attention to what I was telling it (how to avoid cars and dogs), cute little face studying me as if it were memorizing my words.
The third joey stayed way up in the tree, folded up like a tiny furry Buddha, balanced in the crook of thin branches that barely looked as if they would support that little fuzzball.  But they did, and it slept through the whole meal. 

Unfortunately, my camera decided it didn’t want to take any more photos, and started doing weird things – so my apologies for some of these photos, and I lost a lot of potentially good ones.  The camera will go to the Camera Hospital when we get to a larger town. 
I chatted with the carer (what they call the caregivers here) who said that these weren’t related joeys, but they’ll be released together when they’re a bit older, so that they form sort of a family bond and won’t be alone in their new environment.  Koalas might live alone in a tree, but they aren’t necessarily solitary animals, they usually live in a loose family group.  And while adult koalas are familiar with their territory and thus are usually released back to their home (unless it presents a danger, such as after a fire), the joeys can be released pretty much anywhere that’s safe, since they don’t have a home territory yet.  So there’s hope for these little ones.

On the way out, I signed up to adopt one of the released koalas – not that I get to physically adopt it and take it home with me – no, it’s kind of a symbolic adoption, where the funds help support the rescue center and I receive a packet of information about the little koala.  Except, as a rolling luggager, I don’t have a mailing address, and the center doesn’t send out the information by email.  So I did the next best thing, I signed up my dad to be the recipient of the adoption papers.  (Happy Father’s Day, Maury!)  We’re the proud parents (and grandfather) of Koolabong Paula – each koala is named with the place they’re from, and a name.  She had a face I just couldn’t resist. 

The Talmud says that each person who visits an ill person makes that person 1/60th better.  So I figure it must be a mitzvah to visit rescued koalas.  

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