Tuesday, November 23, 2010

The Wonders of Australia / Part One: The Koala

I'm still not up on all the accents – Australian, English, New Zealand, mixes of all three who have spent time in all three at some point or another – so that I've had to come up with another way to distinguish an Australian from a foreigner without risking offending anyone by asking.

The Australians are the ones running past the koala exhibit to get to the goats at the petting zoo.

The rest of us can be seen gazing up at the little guys in awe and admiration, snapping shots – still-lifes as it were since koalas don't move much – and shouting to eachother everytime one of the koalas shows signs of life.

''Oh. Oh. Ryan. Quick. That one just moved an ear.'' (Opened an eye.)

''Damon. Hurry up with the camera. I think that one might be stretching.''

''Oh. No. Never mind. No, I don't think you need to bother with the video recorder.''

Koalas don't move much.

In fact, we were a bit worried about Aidan this week. He's gone from what we called ''Aidan's brain in Australia'' -which consisted of running around in circles and then throwing himself from side to side- to going catatonic with his hands clawed and a blank expression on his face.

Turns out he's playing koala.

He just goes stiff all of a sudden, claws up his hands and stiffly sits staring blankly at nothing.

We thought he was having a fit of some sort.

But he's real easy to pick up and carry around on your hip when he's in role. Like the zookeeper and her koala last week at the zoo.

In Aidan's world, koalas speak in very hoarse voices and stilted sentences.

In the real world, koalas are an endangered species. The zookeeper told us they only live in scattered pockets now. There are only about 2,000 left in our area. 500 a year are killed by cars. Koalas are slow. Another 500 a year are killed by pet dogs. Koalas are slow. (Andrew did the math in his head. Not looking good for the little guys then, is it?)

Then there's the loss of habitat. (Hang head low as we think of the townhouse development we are in and the koala land it usurped. ''We saved that tree over there because there were koalas in it.'' the developer told us. Like any self-respecting koala was going to stay in a tree surrounded by townhouses.

We saw one in a tree across from our house the other day. And stopped and pointed and made real tourists of ourselves. But I consider myself lucky to get here before they are gone. (At the same time that I realize I am part of the reason they are gone.) In twenty years, or ten, or even two according to Andrew's math, we'll be telling kids that koalas used to run through our yards.

Or amble slowly anyway.

All too soon, koalas will cease to be a backyard neighbor and become an exotic animal here in Australia as well. I won't be able to tell the Australians apart at the zoo anymore.

It's all right. Australians don't take offense very easily.

But it really is a shame about the koala.

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