As an Australian Wildlife carer, working under our local association, I have had the privilege of handling many a sick or orphaned marsupial, kangaroos, wallabies, and a variety of possums.
How I would dearly like to rear one of our country’s most unusual and cherished marsupials, the koala! To do this, a special Koala Permit is required. Because of the considerable expertise and concentrated care required in the raising of one of these animals, we carers are required to notify the Parks and Wildlife Authority, should one of these animals fall into our hands when called out on rescue missions.
One day last May, I had a call from some folk who had picked up a young koala. They had found her under a tree in the State Forest, just sitting on the ground all alone, with no mother in sight.
They had no idea what was the right thing to do. It was obvious that she needed help. They were uncertain as to how to approach her. Being a wild animal, they thought that she might scratch or bite. In spite of that risk, they felt that they could not leave her there all alone. When they finally approached, she allowed them to pick her up. They found that all she required was a cuddle.
They brought her to my house wrapped in a blanket, and I rang the Queensland Parks and Wildlife to report that I had an orphaned koala placed with me by its finders. She was very weak and dehydrated. The ranger warned me not to get my hopes up as she probably would not live. This made me determined to save this little one. However, I followed the instructions he gave me…and I painstakingly followed them to the letter!
I named her Jessie, after my first grand-daughter. What a wonderful experience it was raising her, my first baby koala. And she was just like a baby as she ran along the ground to me and put out her arms to be picked up.
Each week, she got stronger and put on more weight. It was soon necessary for her to have some means of climbing and perching. We had to put on our thinking caps to figure out the best way of providing for these needs. Finally, my husband came to the rescue. We selected a suitable dead tree with spreading limbs that could be trimmed to a suitable size for a young koala to negotiate. The tree was duly cut, the limbs trimmed and shaped, to provide Jessie with a perching and climbing area. The limb and branches also provided us with the necessary attachment points for the eucalypt branches we daily fixed to them.
As it was still necessary to keep Jessie within doors for an even temperature, the make-believe tree was erected in a large ground floor room, connected by a short passage to the room set aside for other marsupials. In this way, the animals could have free passage and become used to mingling. Doors could also give separation when needful.
When we took Jessie into the room, she knew exactly what to do. She was very soon giving the tree a thorough try-out and demonstrated her approval by sampling the eucalypt leaves. So far, so good.
Probably, the daily task of searching out, cutting and affixing the gum leaves was the biggest chore. These leaves are the koala’s only food source. They need to be fresh, and with plenty of new shoots on the selected branches. Fortunately, we have the necessary eucalypts growing on our property, so Jessie was spoilt with the ready supply of succulent-tipped branches. These animals can be choosy eaters, any old gum leaf just will not do! We soon found that even Jessie would eat one type of leaf one day and wouldn’t touch it the next. It was quite a job keeping her happy. She had a built-in clock and knew exactly when it was bottle time, for she was not as yet fully weaned from the supplement diet the orphaned koala requires.
Every day, when I looked at her, I could see how healthy and strong she was growing. Every day, I became more attached to her. She was truly my baby and I loved her. Every day, was one nearer to the day when she would have to leave to attend the Koala Kindy, at Moggil, close to Brisbane. Here she would learn to mix with other young koalas, and so become independent.
The time of sad parting came and I missed her beyond belief. All the time, I had to remind myself that the present pain was worth all the joy Jessie had given me. After a few weeks, I was told that she was doing very well. In fact, she was ready for release. When I heard the next words from the ranger, my heart took a leap. It had been decided that as she had come from close to my property, I was to be allowed to release her here. And so Jessie was sent back home. She recognised me at once and was up into my arms in a twinkling. I had never thought that I would hold her again.
To release her was another great, and unexpected, experience. It proved to be a satisfying process for both of us. As I said before, there are plenty of gums on our property and the State Forest, where she was found, is close by. She knew all about running up a gum tree! She favoured one in view of the kitchen window. I do believe that she was as anxious to keep an eye on us as we were on her!
She is still here, 5 months later, and doing so well. She moves around her area but never goes too far away. We see her every day and know all her favorite trees.
The resident male has been around a lot lately, so we are waiting to see a little face looking at us in a few months time.
As I’m sitting here writing this on my back verandah, I can see her in the big blue gum just outside the house paddock fence. She always looks down at us when we call her name. She is getting so big and beautiful, which makes all the leaf gathering worth while, now that we see her released back to the wild and doing so well.
We don’t always get to see the results of the many months it takes to raise these babies. Most times, they are released and we don’t see them again. You just have to hope they make it. When you can see for yourself how well they are doing, it is very special.
I was cutting the long grass just beyond the animal release area with the ride-on mower, when I happened to notice what I thought was a movement ahead. Just to be on the safe side, I stopped to investigate. A very tiny, baby koala, was crouched there alone. Immediately, I looked around for the mother, but she was nowhere to be seen among the grasses or undergrowth. I looked up, and there, to my delight and relief, way up, far above me in the nearest gum, I caught sight of an adult koala. Surely this must be Mom, was my immediate thought.
The little one had presumably fallen all that considerable distance, landing, fortunately, on a soft bed of low spreading lantana. The movement I had glimpsed was its crawled entry into the grass cover. Carefully, I approached and was able to lift the babe. I carried it indoors to weigh and check for injury.
That done, I immediately rang the Wildlife Service to report my findings. I was told that I must try to get the babe back to its mom in the tree. This would prove to be a case of sooner said than done!
No household ladder could reach the height of a koala roost. I called my husband, and together we set off to see what could be done.
First, we put the little one onto the trunk of the gum, hoping that it might begin to climb. Our hands were held at the ready for spills. The baby koala just sat, no amount of coaxing or urging inclined it to attempt the scaling of that tree. We then noticed that Mom, meanwhile, had begun to descend from her leaf cover. As she emerged, to our joy, we recognized Jessie. And we are sure she recognised us.
We immediately, stepped back from the baby and stood motionless. Cautiously, Mom made her way down. Once there, the little one grasped her fur and climbed onto Mom’s back. Together they climbed up to tree-security, leaving us both overjoyed.
I felt so privileged to having been afforded the opportunity to hold Jessie’s daughter. We have named her Tinkerbell, after Peter Pan’s fairy.
– Monica Allen
Cedar Grove, Queensland, Australia.