Saturday, September 28, 2013

The Koala Hospital

Very close to where we were staying in Port Macquarie was one of the most popular tourist spots - the Koala Hospital.  This facility was established in 1973 and is run by one full time paid staff member and a large group of willing volunteers.  The hospital can be visited at any time, but we timed our visit for the 3 p.m. volunteer guide.
 The Koala Hospital is not just a hospital to treat sick and injured koalas but is also involved in research. Between 200 and 500 koalas are admitted annually to the hospital for treatment of various diseases, and injuries from road accidents and dog attacks.  The koala are treated with the aim to return them to their original area.  Where this is not possible they remain at the hospital in secure enclosures.  All koala that come to the hospital for any reason are tagged for future identification.

There was a large group of visitors for the 3 p.m. guided walk where the volunteer explained the work of the hospital, the habitat of the koala and the dangers and medical issues that affect koala.  This talk went on for quite a long time, so long that some of the visitors starting wandering off to check out the enclosures. Eventually the volunteer started walking down the pathway through the enclosures and explained how the koala came into care and the reason it has remained in care.  This is what most people wanted to hear!

One particular koala had an eating disorder and did not eat sufficient gum trees and each day volunteers would feed it with a syringe.  This was interesting to see.

The volunteer explained how the koala are named at the hospital - the first name is where they were found and the second name is chosen by the finder and is often their name or something they have chosen.  The whiteboard on show listed all the koala currently being treated at the hospital with their details.
I was disappointed that we did not get to see inside the hospital at all.  We could look through a window and see a consulting room but this didn't give any indication of what was done as it only had a table in it.  However, on the wall there was a photo of the lifecycle of a koala - they are certainly really small when they are first born.  They are apparently just two centimetres long when born and they crawl into the mother's pouch where they stay for 6-7 months and feed only on the mother's milk.  During this time the ears, eyes and fur are developed.  As it grows it leaves the pouch and eventually sits on the mother's back.  They continue to feed off and remain with the mother until the next season's baby is born.  Like the kangaroo, the baby koala is called a joey.  It was certainly interesting to learn more about the koala.
There is no charge to visit the koala hospital although donations are encouraged.  It is also possible to adopt a koala and regularly make donations for the work of the hospital.

It was certainly an interesting place to visit and a great opportunity to see koala up close, which is very hard to do so in the wild.  We were told that the area surround the koala hospital is actually a koala corridor for those in the wild.  Who knows, we just might see some in the next week.

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