Tuesday, 11 August 2015

The Carer

Yoli with a small Wombat

Beauty Point, Tasmania, January 4, 2015

My friend Yoli picks me up at nine, with Henry her Maltese dog. 

She is one of the people in Australia who look after orphaned animals. Many nocturnal marsupials, especially wallabys, are killed on the road, if the females have a joey (baby or youngster) in their pouch it will starve inside its dead mother's body. Yolande is a "carer", someone known to contact locally who has the skill to look after these sensitive little critters. She worked for years at the Platypus and Echidna House in Beauty Point, and now, after taking an animal care course, works for a vet in Beaconsfield.

She shows me a wallaby joey, wrapped in a flannel bag, a surrogate marsupial pouch. An awkward creature, its long dark tail and legs (with huge black nails), stick out of the bag. Somehow almost bat-like, it's all dark skin, showing little hair, stretched over long limbs.

Yoli drives me to visit a friend, another carer. Loraine's place is in the country, a curious home clad on all sides with heavy stonework to represent a (one story) castle, complete with crenellated towers in the corners and several heraldic animal figures imbedded over doors.

Lorraine is a short, business-like woman in her seventies. She is in a hurry as she has family coming over later. She takes us through to a building surrounded by pens. Inside is her "hospital" where she treats animals. Shelves contain supplies and instruments. In one corner is an old baby incubator, donated for her use by a hospital. On the wall is a framed citation awarded Lorraine from the Australian government.

" Mrs Lorraine Lillian McDonald
Medal of the Order of Australia (OAM)
Citation: For service to the conservation and care of injured and orphaned native animals in northern Tasmania.
Date Received: 26 January 2005"

She learned to care for these animals from her mother, also a carer. Animals are kept until they can be put back into the wild, or sometimes sent to a wildlife park and perhaps from there to the wild.

Lorraine looks at Yoli's joey and they discuss it's skin problems, dry appearance and closed eyes. Lorraine feeds the little thing, and applies some skin cream, but expresses concern. She feels there is infection somewhere, and is not very positive about it's chances.
We then visit some of the pens outside, one contains three young Eastern Grey Kangaroos, two females and a larger male. Beautiful animals, the little females come shyly over to us at the fence, one sucks its thumb (paw). They suddenly hop around the yard and I experience a sudden surprizing moment of intense delight in them.
In another pen a large wombat waddles quickly over to us. I reach in and give it a good scratch up and down its back, which it obviously enjoys.
Another pen has wallabys, and a smaller cage has small wombats in pouches. Loraine takes them out, and first Yoli and then I hold one of the small, chubby little marsupials.

I see a row of flannel pouches drying on the line. Altogether we have seen about ten rescue animals.

As we leave there is a horrible screeching sound as I close the door on my side of the car. I imagine hinges that need lubrication until I realize it's the voice of a Sulphur-Crested Cockatoo in a cage just beside our parking spot.

Yoli and I drive to the Lillydale Falls. A short walk through giant ferns and gumtrees takes us to the beautiful little cascade. Yoli suggests I strip and get under the deluge. I strip, but only down to my underwear, and climb slowly over slippery rocks to stand in the down-rushing water. Maybe finding naked old men frolicking in your scenic waterfall is OK in Tassie, but when a family arrives I'm glad I stayed partially clothed. 

We go to a nearby restaurant for lunch. Sitting on the patio Yoli tries to feed a bottle to the wallaby joey but it's not taking it. Yoli has tears in her eyes, realizing the little animal won’t live. But I feel compassion for Yoli, I know she suffers from frequent migraines (there is a stretched look behind her eyes) and has had to struggle. She has a big heart and lives with the sadness of life.

She gets a sudden call from a veterinary hospital, and we drive to Launceston and enter an affluent looking business, the Animal Medical Centre. A vet has received two wild animals from individuals after road encounters and is doing what he can, even though it's of no benefit to him and a holiday as well. We are greeted by the receptionist and the doctor, an energetic young man named Rob. Yoli requests that the vet put down her joey, the receptionist reacts with annoyance and looks at Rob, but he accepts the request without comment. We move into the large treatment room and the vet gives the wallaby a quick injection of green liquid and the little body, now toxic, is wrapped in heavy plastic for disposal. Rob and Yoli have a discussion about the two rescue animals, both mature, a Ringtailed Possum and Blue Tongued Skink, who the vet has X-rayed for free without finding any obvious problems.

We leave with the animals in two boxes and Yoli drives me home to my cousin's place, Blue Dog Hill. We take the animals out of the boxes. The lizard is very beautiful but just sits on the tile floor looking stunned. The possum is a fascinating animal, long thin tail with bare skin on the inner surface, strange splayed hands and feet, bug eyes - caramel coloured and staring intently. It seems better and soon makes a break for it across the room, ending up under a huge couch. I manage to lift the furniture so she can untangle the animal from the struts inside. Yoli leaves, we are very pleased with our day.

On returning to Canada, I get a message from Yoli that the two young kangaroos I liked so much are dead. Lorraine had to put them down, as stress during a storm aggravated symptoms caused by the coccidiosis parasite they suffered from.

I am left with a strong memory of the rush of joy they granted me.

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