Finnish koala carer loves her Aussie experience

THE article in the Argus, ‘Jimmy a hit on the net’, told of the orphaned Crescent Head koala called Jimmy, who was raised by the wonderfully caring staff of the Port Macquarie Koala Hospital.

The article prompted me to interview a visiting volunteer helping at the hospital.

For the past couple of years I have had the absolute pleasure of hosting students from Finland doing their work experience in Australia to learn about environmental campaigning as part of their sustainable development course.

Last summer Juuli Hautamäki came here for 10 weeks and enjoyed our area, its animals and environment so much that she returned. Juuli managed this time to get a position assisting in the Port Macquarie Koala Hospital.

I asked Juuli what particular things about Australia drew her back to our country.

Juuli: I loved every possible animal in Australia which I saw except perhaps spiders and cockroaches. The animals I particularly liked were the koalas of course but kangaroos and especially the lizards were cute and just so different to the animals we have in Finland.

John: I know you don’t have marsupials there of course but what animals do you find in your country?

Juuli: There are no animals you could see as often as kangaroos in Finland. We do have lots of rabbits, moose or elks however you want to say it, and deer. There are reindeer in Lapland to the north and you can see them many times a day but because I live in the south I don’t see them.

We have several birds but not as colourful and beautiful in singing as yours.

John: So why did you choose to apply to the koala hospital to do your work experience this time?

Juuli: Well one of the first things I saw last time I was here was the koala hospital, and when I saw my first koala I was almost brought to tears.

It was so touching to see it even though it was just sleeping, well they all were because it was mid-day. I did not feel so much sorry for them because I knew they were being cared for.

John: So did you decide then that you would like to be a small part of the caring for injured and sick koalas?

Juuli: At that moment it didn’t feel real, I didn’t even think about that chance then because it seemed unreal to expect that I could work with them because it was such a strange and new animal to me.  I didn’t imagine that they could give me such a great opportunity to even work in the yards or to do anything there.

 Later on I found out that it was possible to apply there and here I am!

John: OK. So what sort of work have you been allowed to do and how did they train you?

Juuli: At first I started to work in the yards and another worker explained the work to me and actually the first thing I got to do was to feed a koala with a special formula for them.

And I didn’t expect to be allowed to do that ever in my time in the koala hospital.

I learned how to clean the yards and change the new fresh leaves for the old leaves because they need fresh leaves every day.

John: How do they get fresh leaves every day at the hospital?

Juuli: There are a few leaf collectors who are the only persons in addition to the manager who are paid. All the rest of the workers are volunteers. There are about 120 of them. The collectors gather leaves from the Port Macquarie area in Council land or on properties. They are looking all the time for new areas in which to collect leaves.

John: What other work were you allowed to do?

Juuli:  I got to do a few different kinds of treatments for koalas like eye treatment where one koala, Denise, has an eye condition with the skin around the eye area affected. The machine we use is called the Bioptron which gives laser light and colour treatment.

I was able to give heat treatment to Cath whose back leg was so stiff the koala could not move. Unfortunately Cath ‘s condition stayed the same and one night she just got a whole lot worse and we had to take her to the vet to have a needle and she was put down because there was nothing that could be done and she was suffering.

That was very sad but it is just part of life in the hospital.

And there were happy times too.

I have been helping to release three koalas who were patients. One koala had chlamydia. That was Ken. He was very active climbing around and trying to escape. 

He escaped once actually from his yard so we decided he needed to be released because he wanted it so bad. We let him go near his home territory which was surrounded by houses. 

We took him about half a kilometre away to a better area but when we put him under a really good tree he ran away and found another skinnier tree and climbed it. He was so funny.

Kempsey Cookie was found sitting in the middle of the new highway works near Kempsey and one of the workers took him in his arms and they called the hospital to collect him. 

He was dehydrated and he didn’t want to move. At the hospital we fed him up with the formula and he recovered. 

We took him back to the workers on the highway and we released Kempsey Cookie together into a tree just to the side of the road. It was very nice to see how touched the workers were about releasing the koala.

Chris was found near Little Fish cafe in Port Macquarie. He had been injured perhaps in a dog attack or car accident but recovered well enough to be released and he also tried to escape before we let him go. He was so cute. When we put him outside from the ICU he was so scared he climbed into the roof and it took over half an hour to get him down.

I enjoyed guiding a few people who were there out of the hours for the formal guided tour. They were really grateful for having a private tour of sorts and I really want to be involved in eco-tourism, maybe in Australia one day.

If you see a koala in trouble you can ring 6584 1522 for help from the koala hospital 24/7.

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