Meet one of our dedicated wildlife carers – Judy Brady. Judy devotes much of her time to looking after ill and injured koalas – helping to provide a happier and healthier future for our furry friends …
How did you first get involved with looking after wildlife?
When we first moved up from Sydney, a friend of mine that I met through bowls was working at the Koala Hospital and suggested that I might like to do that also. So I started there 6½ years ago, looking after the koalas, and I have been there ever since.
Did you need to have any special training to care for the koalas?
We had in house training under supervision, and to have them in home care, you have to be a team leader.
I also do night rescues, which involves bringing them in; if they need treatment, then we attend to that straight away. If they need extra care, we take them home until they can be seen by a vet in the morning. If they are really badly hurt, then we bring the vet in at night.
So you’re on call a lot then?
Yes, on Thursday nights I’m on call. We have someone on call each week night.
What other roles do you have?
I conduct the walk and talk tours of the Koala Hospital, which is the guided tour through the facility.
You are currently looking after a little Koala called Dunbogan Dave. Tell us about him …
Dave and his mother were found on the ground down in Dunbogan, and he is around 8-months-old. For a koala to be found sitting on the ground is abnormal behaviour, and subsequently, his mother isn’t doing too well.
He is just big enough to be away from his mother, which won’t impact on his development too much. When we found him, he was 1.6 kg and still being nursed by his mother. The decision was made by the vet to separate him from her, to give her a better chance of recovery.
So he came home with me and has been putting on weight ever since, which is a great sign – he loves his tucker!
So what has happened to his mother? You say she was found on the ground?
Well, she may have been just a bit run down and become a bit tired and not receiving enough nutrition. She is starting to gain weight again now and is just under 5 kg. Once she gets over 5 kg, she will probably be released back into the wild.
The vets have done all the blood tests and checks; there is nothing that they could find that was physically wrong with her, just that she was run down.
So she will stay with us until she has better body condition. Dave will stay with me until he is around 2½ kg, which should be late December. Then we will move him back over to the Koala Hospital into what we call our Kindergarten yard and become de-humanised, to continue his growth until he is about 3½ – 4 kg. Then we will see what happens.
How many koalas would you look after in a normal year?
I’m not too sure. It’s not always joeys [baby koalas] that we look after, but also the adult koalas. This is the second joey I have looked after this year. The first was one which was displaced due to the RTA work happening on the west side of town. He was too small to be away from his mum, but we couldn’t find her, so he came home with me.
At what age or size do they become an adult?
Usually around 12 – 18 months of age they can leave their mum; at that stage they are probably around 3 kg. When we release joeys, we wait until they are around 3½ – 4 kg, so that they have a bit better body condition and they can sustain themselves in an unfamiliar environment.
When he is released, will he be released back into the area where he was found?
Not necessarily. As the joeys haven’t had their mum to show them around, we will liaise with Parks and Wildlife to find a suitable location to release a joey – where there are not a lot of koalas, but good koala habitat.
Sometimes we will release a couple of them together, where they have become familiar with each other while in care.
We released three recently in an area together, and they are all doing well. They were all fairly small koalas, and they wouldn’t have made it without human intervention. It’s great to return healthy koalas back to the wild.
Run us through a typical 24 hours with a joey in your care.
With this little fellow, Dave, it is fairly easy, as he sleeps all day and can look after himself.
In the morning between 6 and 7am I give him his formula for breakfast. He has 50 ml twice a day at the moment. Then I clean out his aviary.
Usually around 10am I will get him new leaf and take away the old leaves.
Around 5pm, I give him his second formula and then change his leaves and perhaps have a little play with him … that is, until he bites a bit too hard (laughs).
I change his water daily; they don’t usually drink the water, but we have it there for them if they want it. Generally they will get their moisture from the leaves, and of course, from the formula at the moment.
With a tiny joey, they get fed though the night, as they are smaller.
Dave will be weaned off the formula soon, as we plan to return him to the hospital so that he is comfortable just surviving on the leaf.
Does Dave have a preference for what type of leaves he eats?
He is actually a really good eater, and he eats most leaf.
What are some of the most common health issues that you see koalas come in with; are they mostly injured, or sick?
It’s about 50/50. We get a lot who are injured by motor vehicles, especially at this time of year. It is the breeding season, so young ones are active and are out and about looking for their range or a home of their own.
The bigger males are busy protecting their range and making sure that all their girls are OK and that no one is trying to move in on their turf. So they are very active compared to what they normally are. When they are moving from one tree to another, they do it quite quickly.
What would you say to encourage people who are thinking of volunteering their services to look after wildlife?
It is very rewarding work. People often ask about the joeys: “How can you give them up?”But, that is part of the reward. It is a happy-sad time. You do hope they are going to be OK, but it is very special to know that you have helped one of our beautiful wild animals, who was doing it a bit tough.
It is also great to be heightening the awareness of the need the koalas have, and that we need to look after them. They’re not always going to be here if we don’t look out for them.
We have to provide the amenity that they need to survive – especially in this area, as they are now confined to the east coast of Australia.
Has there been one particular koala that has touched your heart?
I love them all. One that was probably my favourite was Cori. She was very tiny when we got her and was found by a young couple on the side of the road out near Lake Innes, with no sign of mum. So they wrapped her up in a shirt and brought her in to the hospital.
She was under 500 g when she came in, so needed a lot of care. She was in a basket at the side of my bed most nights for a few weeks, until she got big enough to climb.
Then she moved into the bathroom in a little enclosure, then she graduated out to the aviary. As we had her for such long time, it was quite sad when we released her back into the wild.
Are they tagged when they are released? Are you able to monitor them?
Yes, they are tagged, but we can only monitor them when they come back in.
We had a colony of koalas that were rescued when the RTA built the new part of the Oxley Highway, and there was an expert in koala behaviour and radio tracking … he was employed by the RTA to capture the koalas, and they were relocated as a group and radio collar tracked for some months, which has been very successful.
They were first brought into the Koala Hospital and were a bit disorientated, then they were taken to a new area and shown their new tree, enclosed in a fence – which becomes their base tree. The fence was then removed after a week and they stayed in the same area – all bar one young male, who ventured a little further.
It was really interesting to see this work.
Thank you Judy.
Interview by Jo Atkins. Next month, read our interview with Cheyne Flanagan, from the Port Macquarie Koala Hospital.