Thursday, November 22, 2007

How much can a Koala Bear?

Before you start, I know koalas are not bears, they are marsupials. But before I get into the wildlife story, with a political broadcast and advertising blackout now in place, a quick observation is in order.

I’ve been just a little critical of Rupert Murdoch’s Newspoll reports in News Limited press. Regardless of the figures the analysis has invariably been favourable to Howard’s coalition. Just a few days out from election day the story has changed with a concession that Labour has winning leads in all states except Western Australia.

Now the wildlife

I spend odd days at an office located in the bushy suburbs of Port Macquarie. Koalas love gum trees (eucalypts) which abound in this area. In fact, because of threats to koala habitats it is almost a hanging offence to remove one of these trees.

So one day, sitting on the porch eating lunch, we heard an almighty racket, sounding like a wild bush pig. An Aussie my age and I didn’t even know koalas made any sounds, but this I’m told (well I was watching) was a koala in breeding season. His charming pig snorts apparently tempt local females to him.

There are some other neat critters around this building. This week the gum tree was host to a pair of very young Boobook Owls, sleeping in the dappled sunshine. But my favourites are probably not immediately cute but surprisingly friendly.

There is a magpie sharing those trees and the rest of the place. It follows the groundsman around cleaning up any edibles revealed. I really enjoy watching it picking insects and grubs off tree trunks around the yard. It’s certainly not shy of people.

A blue tongue lizard also wanders the grounds freely, unfazed by people. I haven’t really approached this one, but I recall others when I lived here before. One mother lizard used to scratch on our screen door in the height of summer when food was scarce. She wasn’t asking for herself, but making sure her young one was fed.


Another thing I learned about Koalas is that the pig sounds probably match the male attitude. The female won’t mate during gestation, of course, but extends the hands off period through the first year after the birth of its single baby.

Very protective, and nurturing; but the male really has only one thing on its mind, after it has had its fill of gum leaves which ferment in the gut. The male will actually kill the young, if it can, to get the female to play. It’s a hard life…


D.K. Raed said...

aww, you make me homesick for all the eucalyptus around san diego. the railroad bldrs planted them many decades ago because someone told them they would be a good renewable source of railroad ties. Hah! They are worthless in that regard. But the trees thrived in that mild environment & so today the whole area is eucalyptus heaven. We planted a few at our last home there (a red gum, a lemon & a peppermint). The leaves were wonderfully aromatic & reputed to help keep the everpresent san diego fleas at bay. No Koalas though, except at the SD Zoo.

We've got plenty of lizards in our current desert locale. Haven't seen any blue-tongues yet, but a few blue-collared ones. Thanks for the prodding some of my favorite SD memories!

Cartledge said...

“…help keep the ever-present San Diego fleas at bay” I seem to recall, but could be wrong, that most of the south Cal eucs were Blue Gums (E. globulus) A glorious tree and the leaves are wonderful, but the wood is essentially only used for pulp wood chips.
Red gum is what they use for railroad ties, and peppermint is just exquisite, as long as you don’t mind the falling branches and year round leaves.
I spent my first ten years in a eucalypt forest just south of Sydney. No koalas there, but the bush was glorious. In fact, without the koalas developers would have destroyed everything here. Bastards!!!
Glad I touched a good nerve.

D.K. Raed said...

so you mean those old RR bldrs had a germ of an idea & just planted the wrong type of euc? The one I called red gum might've been a blue gum. It grew taller than a telephone pole in 2-yrs. There were some pretty hairy windstorms where we feared it would fall over on the house. The peppermint one was my fave.

No koalas, but the SD bldrs had to contend with endangered species rules re: the Calif Gnatcatcher and the Fairy Shrimp (these latter live in vernal pools). Oh but the bastards always found ways around the rules, usually by dedicating some piece of shit ground way far out in the boonies to stay "natural" (big of 'em).

Now the SD fleas were a BIG problem & some people did indeed hang little lockets full of eucalypt leaves from their dogs' collars. Nothing really worked though. The original natives used pack up & move inland ea summer to escape the fleas. There was a road off I-5 named "Las Pulgas" which is spanish for The Fleas. Just so you know I wasn't kidding ...

Cartledge said...

Fleas and wet humid... But I don't recall eucs being a pesticide per se. Certainly they don't discourage the mosquitoes here, a bigger menace than fleas.
But yes, they were on the right track, so to speak. I won't bore you with E. species names, but this is a hardwood country as opposed to NA softwoods. Or it was when we had lots of it.
I used to work for an outfit in Tasmania - Gunns Timber. Google that and you will probably find why I was shafted.
They clear fell for pulp and replant fast growing blue um - for pulp.
Red gum likes dry areas along streams and grows straight unless it gets too dry. Most eucs develop twists when they are looking for a water source, even the dry country ones.

abi said...

Koala marsupial doesn't have quite the same ring to it.

Why would you get close enough to a lizard to find out what color its tongue is?

Cartledge said...

abi, I'm not partial to reptiles, but these critters can be very engaging. Self serving of them perhaps, but they have adapted themseleves to the realities of creeping urbanisation.
Unlike koalas who tend to piss on anyone who gets close enough.