‘Now this looks like a good spot to call home’, Gordon thought to himself. High up in the leafy eucalyptus trees at Kooloonbung Creek, Gordon Firie was settling into his new surroundings following a stint in Port Macquarie Koala Hospital on the east coast of Australia. After a very lucky escape he was delighted to be back in the wild once more where he could carry on enjoying the quiet life in New South Wales.
Sporting a bright yellow new fashion accessory, Gordon was hopeful the yellow tag in his left ear would make him stand out to other koalas and to the little people who pass by from time to time and look up excitedly and point at him. He hoped they would know there was something different about him, something special – and there was…he had been on an adventure.
Gordon was surrounded by the sounds and smells of nature and he was growing fond of his lovely new view across fifty acres of beautiful casuarina forest and mangroves. Turning his head a little whilst clinging on to his new spot, he peered down and looked at the wooden boardwalk winding its way through the Creek. A man and a woman were looking up at him, smiling and taking photos. He kept a close eye on them but soon realised they were harmless so decided to rest his head for a while and go back to sleep. Sleeping was one of his favourite things to do, other than chewing eucalyptus leaves which he did during the four or five hours he was awake each day.
Every now and then Gordon thought about that terrifying day; the day he had a very lucky escape. Why he ever decided to cross four lanes of traffic on a busy street in Port Macquarie he’ll never know; and how he managed to navigate himself underneath moving cars and come out unscathed the other side was beyond him. On surviving thus far, Gordon climbed up the nearest ‘tree’ on the other side of the road in panic and climbed and climbed until he reached the top. Unfortunately, this was not a tree as such but in fact an electricity pole. Luckily koalas are rather good at hanging on to things so he clung onto the electricity lines and hoped for the best.
Two workers from Port Macquarie Koala Hospital attempted to rescue him but quickly realised that he was out of reach and they needed a plan B. Along came four firemen from Port Macquarie Fire Brigade and with a bit of luck managed to rescue this young, adventurous koala and bring him down to safety. The hospital staff named him ‘Gordon Firie’, after the street he was found on and the lovely firemen who came to his rescue.
This story has a happy ending but it could so easily have been very different for young Gordon Firie. In built up areas, like Port Macquarie, in New South Wales and Queensland where humans encroach on the natural habitat of koalas, numbers are dropping and they are now listed as ‘vulnerable’. In some local isolated populations, they can even be considered endangered and facing local extinction. The continual removal of habitat through development means that many koalas living in urban areas are forced to cross roads and yards in search of food, just like Gordon.
A thoroughly insightful visit to the koala hospital gave us an understanding of why koalas are admitted – common reasons are dog attacks, car accidents and chlamydia which if left untreated causes blindness, infertility and death in koalas. Sadly, the later reason is all too common in koalas who are living in close proximity to one another due to habitat loss. We came across ‘Barrington Xavier’ who was admitted in 2013 and despite six weeks of treatment for severe conjunctivitis was found to be completely blind so unable to return to his home in the mountains. He was chomping on eucalyptus leaves when we met him in the rehabilitation yard and seemed very happy in his forever home. Ocean Summer pulled on our heartstrings too; a young joey who was hit by a car with her mother in 2012 in Port Macquarie. The mother died from the impact but motorists found the tiny joey sitting in the gutter on the side of the road crying for her mother. Ocean Summer was extremely traumatised by the event but gradually began to settle and accept human contact. After a little while the ‘foster mother’ realised that the little joey had suffered brain damage and could not see. She now lives alongside Barrington Xavier as one of the permanent patients at the hospital.
We flicked through a folder of koala mugshots that were up for adoption; the annual donations going towards supporting the vital work of the hospital. A few pages in we came across one Gordon Firie; a young male found on Gordon Street just next to Kooloonbung Creek with a bright yellow tag in his left ear. Could it be? We compared photos and scanned through the stories of the other koalas. Lots of ‘wrong locations’ and ‘wrong colour tags’ later, we concluded that the koala who showed off his bright yellow tag and peered down at us that morning in the Creek was with around 95% certainty Gordon Firie. We asked one of the 200 dedicated volunteers who run the hospital for their thoughts on the matter and were pleased when the friendly lady enthusiastically agreed that ‘our koala’ was almost certainly Gordon given that koalas rarely go far from the spot in which they are released and that it would make a lot of sense given his name. That was enough for us, but even if it wasn’t Gordon, we had a wonderful time learning about Gordon Firie’s lucky escape.
To find out more about the fantastic work of the koala hospital visit: http://www.koalahospital.org.au/