The Aussie Journals, Ch. 5
Cuddling a Koala
“The Koala (Phascolarctos cinereus),” according to Wikipedia, “ is a thickset arboreal marsupial herbivore native to Australia, and the only extant representative of the family Phascolarctidae.” Okay, but it’s also doggone cute, much, much cuter than its closest relative, the wombat.
Despite its nickname, it isn’t a bear at all. It’s a marsupial and carries its young in a pouch. Did I mention it’s cute? It’s so cute, in fact, when the opportunity arose to actually hold a koala and have my picture taken with it, I forked over my $15 and stood in the short line. We were at the Kuranda Village, located in a rainforest outside of Cairns, Australia. This, we were told, is the only place in Australia where we could actually hold a koala. The possibility of injury to ourselves became apparent when we saw the long claws on the animals.
A nearby open display held a number of koalas, all sound asleep on tree limbs, in every posture imaginable, all of which looked totally uncomfortable to me.
I watched as the young woman instructed the first in line on how to hold the sleepy koala. One arm down to hold the animal’s weight, the other arm up to support the body against our torsos. Pictures were taken, and the koala retrieved from the woman’s arms.
I stepped in front of the painted backdrop, ready to receive the koala in my arms. By this time, it was more awake and decided it wanted to lean on my opposite shoulder. I switched arms, and the furry gray creature draped its clawed front legs over my left shoulder.
The first thing I noticed was the sharp smell. It was not an unpleasant smell, and probably came from its sole diet of eucalyptus leaves. I turned so the little animal’s face was towards the camera. The attendants offered to take pictures with my own camera, and allowed others to take pictures also.
The picture is priceless.
I had just finished speaking to the six Brownie Scouts assembled in the gym at the Moose Pass school for their bi-weekly meeting. I had been invited to talk to them about picking up litter in public places. They wanted to organize a community clean up day while I was away on vacation.
The troop leader, Rose, began the session by asking, “Who knows what litter is?” Hands shot up.
“Trash,” said one.
“Where the cat goes to the bathroom,” said another. We were off and running, as soon as Rose and I could stop laughing.
After I finished my presentation and was leaving the gym, one girl asked, “Where are you going.”
“To Australia,” I answered.
“What are you going to do there?”
“I’m going to pick up litter and put it in kangaroo’s pouches,” I said.
“Nuh-uh!” came the chorus.
So there I was, outside the koala enclosure, past the wombat and the lizards. Around me were kangaroos and wallabies. A feed station dumped pellets into my hand and I approached a kangaroo. From her pouch protruded one long hind leg, a tail, and the head of her joey.
I knelt beside her, petted her and the joey. As the joey and then the mom gently nuzzled the pellets from my palm, my friends snapped photos of me pretending to place a Kleenex in the kangaroo’s pouch.
Now I have the proof to show those Brownie Scouts back home!
June 2, 2008