by Wildlife Carer Rachel Aspinall
Many animals have very well known, characteristic sounds. Cats will meow, dogs will bark, birds can sing and so on. But do you know what the sounds our native marsupials make are?
They aren’t very noisy creatures, it’s true. Many of our native animals don’t use sound to communicate very often – even when in a lot of pain they can be totally silent.
As a carer this can mean having to pay a lot of attention to things like body language and movement to notice pain rather than being able to, as you might with a person, hear them crying or screaming.
However, there are certain circumstances where these animals will make particular, recognisable sounds. Joeys will often call out to their parents demanding food or attention and this also occurs with orphans in care.
I found it particularly heartbreaking to hear my recently orphaned koala joey O’Reilly call out for his mummy with a distinct yipping sound. His mother died after a dog attack, despite a blood transfusion and surgery at Australia Zoo Wildlife Hospital.
O’Reilly stayed with his mum at the wildlife hospital until he became an orphan. As he was not injured, he did not need to remain within a hospital environment and I received a call to be his temporary foster mum.
Orphaned koalas are medically assessed and passed onto a licensed wildlife carer until they are old enough to be weaned. The young koalas are then returned to a wildlife hospital for socialisation and to build up strength, as they live in a secure and monitored plantation.
When they are independent and healthy, the koalas are returned to a 5km radius from where they were originally found. All of this is to try and make sure they have the best possible chance of readjusting to life in the wild.
Initially O’Reilly needed a soft teddy to cling to and lots of cuddles for reassurance to help him make it through the difficult emotional period of losing his mum.
O’Reilly has also developed a love of clinging onto my thumb when he’s feeding from his bottle. Now that he is more settled he also has some time in a larger outside enclosure and has the opportunity to socialise with another koala joey also in care.
It’s an unfortunately common occurrence for wild koalas to suffer from chlamydia. The visual symptoms include conjunctivitis – weepy or crusty eyes – and cystitis –brown staining on the rump. When caught and treated early, the koala can be cleared for release.
It is important to report any concerns to specialised koala rescuers including Australia Zoo Wildlife Hospital. I am also happy to assist and carry out a visual health check on the hinterland if you have any concerns.
Another way anyone can help is by providing koala food! Did you know that it takes 1,000 gum trees to feed just one koala for one year? Any planting to support our wildlife is needed today.
Why not make a few changes in your own backyard? Plant some Australian natives and eucalypts in your garden, install a koala friendly-fence, (simply place a pole or plank against your fence to create an escape route for koalas that pass through your yard); and be sure to take a little more care on our roads and keep your pets locked up at night.