Bushfires have been raging in Australia, and the natural habitat of koalas in Queensland and New South Wales has been decimated. Here in Victoria, we have wept over heart-breaking pictures and stories of badly-burned koalas and other wildlife.
But we have also cheered the heroic stories of those firefighters and rescuers who have done their utmost to rescue and bring injured animals to shelters and hospitals.
The internet reverberated with the video of one brave woman – Toni Doherty – who ran into a fiery area in Long Flat, NSW, to bring out a badly-burned and disoriented koala. She cradled him carefully in her blouse, got him to the side of the road and poured her water bottle’s contents on his smouldering fur and singed paws and nose, before covering him with a blanket and driving him to the Port Macquarie Koala Hospital. Thanks to her, this one was saved and has been named Ellenborough Lewis.
Many other animals have not been this lucky.
The above-mentioned koala hospital in Port Macquarie has been working around the clock for several weeks now, nursing injured and homeless koalas. They started a GoFundMe page to raise funds for water stations in the fire-damaged areas. While they have exceeded their expected goal, it falls way short of what is really needed to help the koalas and other wildlife to be nursed and rehabilitated back into the wild. The real problem is that there is no “wild” for the animals to return to because of the fire devastation. Even healthy koalas cannot be released for at least another year, to allow for the vegetation to re-grow and establish itself.
The Koala Hospital intends to use the extra funds raised to build a new habitat for a wild koala breeding programme. If anyone is able to, it will be this remarkable organisation.
In March 2016, my friend Jackie and I visited this koala hospital and witnessed some of the amazing work done there, mainly by volunteers. At the time, I wrote a blog-post about Port Macquarie in general, mentioning the koala hospital and its good work. You can read it here.
Unconnected with these bush fires, and way further south in a much less dramatic incident, I met a lost kangaroo two weeks ago.
In my garden.
I always claim that I live out in the country, but in fact it is fairly close to schools, shops and other amenities. My landlady has only seen a kangaroo on this property once in the thirty-five or so years that they have lived here, so although the kangaroos have a natural habitat at Lysterfield Lake Park (which is only half a kilometre from where I live), seeing them in the tarred-road suburbs is not as common as people outside of Australia might think.
Although my acquaintance with this particular kangaroo was brief, I named him Skippy. What else do you name a kangaroo? Especially if you saw episodes of that 1968 TV series as a child…
Here’s how it happened. It was a lazy Sunday afternoon, and I was washing dishes when something attracted the edge of my gaze through the kitchen window. I looked up and couldn’t believe what I saw. There at the bottom of the garden, under one of the trees, was a kangaroo.
I threw off the dishwashing gloves and raced for my phone to snap a blurry picture through the net curtain. Not a second too soon, because a noise from people walking their dog on the road below startled Skippy, and he took off before I could lift the net curtain for a better view. A hopping grey-brown streak across the garden, and he was out of sight. I swallowed my disappointment, then suddenly realised that he had headed in the direction of the busier part of our suburb, towards a main road with traffic.
Mindful of the fact that adult kangaroos can pack enough punch (or kick) to knock out a grown man, and this one was at least my height, I carefully left my cottage through the front door, taking only my phone (on silent) in case another photo opportunity presented itself.
I walked up the road, ears alert for any sounds of screeching brakes in case Skippy decided to cross the road, but all was silent. On my way back to my cottage I took the long route, between my cottage and my landlord’s bigger house, towards my veranda. As I came around the corner of my house, I heard a disturbance in the bushes at the bottom of the garden, and Skippy hopped out from under the oak tree, towards the neighbour’s fence, not far from where I had first seen him. I froze, not wanting to startle him. In my excitement, I completely forgot to take another photo until he reached the fence and tried to climb through it.
To my horror, his long legs kept getting tangled in the wire and he couldn’t escape the property. After a few attempts he hopped behind another tree, and just as I thought it might be safe for me to move, he stuck his head out and looked at me. A Lucy/Mr Tumnus moment, straight out of the Narnia saga!
We eyed each other for a few seconds before he hopped away to the top corner of the property to hide in the bushes around the lemon tree.
Thus freed from my statue position, I raced indoors and called Wildlife Victoria. They responded immediately, asked for my photos and address, and a short while later a van pulled up and two fabulous rescuers arrived to return Skippy to his habitat.
Skippy led them a merry dance before the afternoon was over, showing his remarkable jumping skills as he leaped back and forth over fences. At one point, he hopped very close to me – no more than three metres away, and the thundering of his strong back legs as he thumped along the ground was nothing short of awesome.
Eventually the tireless rescuers were able to head him off in the general direction of the more rural area, towards his cousins who live around Lysterfield Lake Park. We haven’t seen him since, but now that I know where they hang out, I will definitely take a wander along the trail paths on the far side of the lake, hoping to take a peek at Skippy and his mob in their natural habitat.