Contents

Australian  Animal  Rescue Stories
By

M.E. Skeel

All rights reserved

 

How Little Grebe Bridge Got its Name

Snake in the Attic

 

The Story of Wubin the Feather Tailed Glider
The Case of the Marbled Frogmouth The Case of the Purple Boxer Shorts

Noddy, her mother and the Yellow Footed Antichinus babies  This story to come

 

How Little Grebe Bridge got its Name

There was a little Grebe who nobody ever saw. He lived near the Orara River in the sedges that grow near the water and on the water itself. His feet were like paddles and set far back on his fat little body so that he could swim fast, even against the current. His tail was absurdly short and his neck absurdly long. His wings were so reduced that flight was difficult but he could just manage to get off the ground and skim along just above it. He had to take a waddling run to get airborne and must have looked quite comical if anybody had ever seen him.

Only eight people ever did: the first was the person driving the car that bowled Little Grebe over as he tried to cross the road. Was he flying or running? I’m not sure but one thing is for certain: The car didn’t actually hit him, because if it had, it would have damaged him. Instead it is most likely that he got caught in the slipstream and was bowled over by it. He landed on his back and then couldn’t get turned back over.

Tess was the second person. She was driving along to work, singing her heart out with the CD player. She was just speeding up as she crossed the big Orara River Bridge and headed towards the nameless second bridge.

Then she saw it… a wriggling thing on the nameless second bridge in the lane of oncoming traffic. She slowed down; the wriggling continued and the image coalesced into a bird, but what a strange one. Half-webbed feet kicked the air. A fat little body with a short tail lay beneath the kicking legs, refusing to turn over. The eyes on the long pointy head at the end of the S-shaped neck glared in concentration as Tess drove by, trying not to laugh.

She pulled over as soon as she could. After the bridge ended, the road widened just enough to allow her to pull off. There wasn’t a millimeter in it though, so she put her hazard blinkers on and got out to jog back to the struggling bird, still upside down at the far end of the nameless bridge. She had to wait for two cars to go by, one in each direction, but they saw and slowed down and missed both Tess and the little bird.

When they were safely by, Tess sprinted down the bridge. Ahead she could see a van coming up over the Orara River towards her as she reached the bird. She could see blood red on his neck and assumed he was injured. Suddenly he righted himself and set off at a fast-paced waddle across the bridge, head stretched out to the end of the long neck, little wings flapping.

Tess slowed and took off her vest to use to catch him. She didn’t want him to reach the edge and jump off into the long grass. She supposed she would have to go after him if he did that, what with the blood on his neck and all but hoped she could head him off. He certainly wasn’t acting badly hurt.


The van slowed as it approached the woman and the bird. Tess stood aside for it to pass and could see a young man driving and an older man in the passenger seat; father and son perhaps. The bird saw the van also, took a 90 degree turn to the right and headed down the bridge back towards Tess’s car. The driver of the van smiled at Tess as he went by and then slowly crept up on the running bird.

When the driver got next it, he stopped the van and curiously, the bird stopped too. Tess snuck up behind her vest and in one swoop had the little critter bagged up. The men smiled and said “well done, well caught”, and Tess saluted them back in acknowledgement of their help. They drove off and left Tess carrying her struggling package back to the car.

All the way she wondered what the bird was and whether it was getting blood all over her new fleecy vest. From bitter experience she knew to wait till she was in the car with the door closed before she had a look. “No blood. That’s good, let’s find the head. Oh, Wow.”

A slender beak with a hook immerged, behind it a bright yellow oval of feathers, and behind that a brighter yellow eye and further back, a streak of beautiful red feathers down the neck.

Tess couldn’t remember ever seeing anything like it before. This surprised her again because she kept thinking she knew her birds, but it kept happening regularly that she didn’t when she got up close and personal with some new feathered critter that had come a’cropper with a motor vehicle. And here it was happening again. What was it? She covered it back up and changed her plans for the morning.

She abandoned all hope of a preschool swim and turned the car around back to Margie and Jimmy’s place, a haven for hurt wildlife. She had to wake them up of course, as it was still early and when Margie asked Tess what she had, Tess answered breathlessly: “I don’t know… its got webbed feet and a long neck like a shag but its too small and its face is so beautiful… look”

She pulled out the little bird and Margie oohed and aaahed at its beautiful neck and head, and then laughed at the fat absurd little body behind it. She didn’t know what it was either, but dear, quiet Jimmy looked over her shoulder and said in a thick aussie accent:

“ it’s a Grebe” which he pronounced grebb and Tess couldn’t figure it out at first. Then she got it: “a grebe… it’s a Little Grebe… but wow, I have never seen one in breeding plumage before. How awesome, let’s get some photos.”

I don’t have any film in the camera” Margie admitted, but Tess just gave her the bird and went out for her fancy, dancy new digital camera. The backgrounds were too dark but she managed to get a good face shot or two and one that had the funny half webbed feet in it. Then she left the bird with Margie and went off to work.

Little Grebe was confused. He had thought he knew what he was doing with his day: he was heading downriver in search of a female Grebe to court. He had on his best feathers and was looking for love. Then suddenly he was bowled over by something that came out of nowhere, knocked him off his feet and left him upside down in a strange new world. He struggled to right himself but couldn’t.

Then Life took a second strange turn as he struggled frantically but without success to get up. A giant monster came out of nowhere and tried to grab him.. Little Grebe got a shot of adrenalin with the new feat, flipped himself over and started running. A huge moving wall that suddenly appeared beside him, the monster’s hands suddenly picked him up and something warm and fleecy covered him up and held him imprisoned.

Little Grebe understood none of it, but his will to live was strong and in fact he had survived his encounter with the car with remarkable good luck and no damage done, except for the addlepated confusion in his brain. Nothing made sense any more. The darkness helped but when the monster pulled the vest back and he saw her, he began to struggle. It was useless, so at last he just stopped and stared. The monster was incredibly ugly but she didn’t eat him. Instead, she covered him back up and began to drive.

He struggled occasionally just to test his prison, but he couldn’t move his body, so he took comfort from the warmth and darkness and settled down to ride out the confusion. It all felt somehow nest-like and he retreated into being a nestling, waiting to be uncovered again.

When she got him to Margie’s place, Tess uncovered him several times in order to examine him, and he bit her once as she felt his neck, wings, body and feet for injuries. There were none and Little Grebe was getting mad. He resented being felt all over and wanted to go home. He struggled as Tess put him in a specially prepared nest-in-a-box covered by a dark blue towel. Margie put Little Grebe in the laundry for peace and quiet and Little Grebe, after a few futile attempts to escape, settled down and slept for the day.

Margie checked on him several times that day and Little Grebe let her know each time that he was not happy and wanted to go free. But Margie talked softly to the little bird and gave him drops of magic water to make him feel better and then left him to rest again in the comforting warmth and darkness of the nest-in-a-box.

The next morning, Tess came back and she took Margie and Little Grebe in her car back to where he had come a’cropper on the newly named Little Grebe Bridge in the country by the Orara River. They drove over that bridge and the third bridge and then Tess turned right off the road and drove down the side track that they use when they are doing bridge repairs. A third of the way along she had to park as they had it blocked off with a five strand barbed wire fence.

The two old wildlife nuts went for a stroll with their precious cargo in the portable nest-inna-box. Little Grebe sat fuming and stewing in the moving box. Occasionally he struggled and tried to fly out and away. But it was futile so mostly he tried to keep his balance as the box was handed over the fence and carried the 300 or so meters they went to find a safe spot for the release.

Tess set it up so she could get some release pictures and then Margie reached in and pulled Little Grebe out into the sunlight. He blinked and struggled and then settled as Margie’s hands prevented flight. He looked around as she knelt on the ground and held him, while Tess snapped or so more shots of Little Grebe in his beautiful nuptial colours. “I think he was out looking for a mate when he got hit … they think it’s spring already. Now slowly take your hands away…he may not notice at first that he is free.”

And sure enough, when Margie let go and moved her hands away, Little Grebe continued to sit there, blinking in the dappled sunlight of the little clearing where Margie had set him. Tess took some more shots and then moved, when her knees started aching. That brought Little Grebe alive and in a blur of feathers, neck stretched out, little feet paddling furiously, he moved forward into the shelter of thick grass.

He stopped there and went into camouflage mode, not moving a muscle. His mostly grey and brown body melted into the colours of the bush. The two women chatted and waited there for a while, savouring the moment of a successful release. Margie looked away and when she looked back she couldn’t see Little Grebe any more, even though he was still there.

At last the two ladies walked back to the car and drove away. For them the second bridge would forever after be known as Little Grebe Bridge, in honour of their encounter with this secretive bird.

Little Grebe was left to pick up his life where he had left it off 24 hours earlier. What a strange day it had been, but now he was back in his element. He sat for hours, watching everything around him, checking for dangers, until he felt confident enough to begin making his way back to his river.

He had places to go, things to do and every present in the back of his mind was the need to find a mate and build a nest and raise some more Little Grebes to live their secret lives on the banks of the beautiful Orara River near Little Grebe Bridge.


 

Snake In The Attic   back


The old house rises story upon story. Pillars to first floor, 1st floor to second up in to the dusty attic.

The people have come and gone and come and gone. One hundred years ago an aboriginal tribe camped on the bare, brown earth where a house now stands. High in the old fig tree a python watched them light their fires tell their stories. But they left and never returned.

White men came, chopped the trees down around the fig tree. Python watched.

A house was built, story by story. The wood was fresh and smelled of the forest. One day the remaining tree was felled and that night the python left her dying home and crawled up into the house story by story. She went until she found a nook beneath the roof. She crawled in and fell asleep. The new owners of the land and the house moved in. They named the new house after an old castle far away. They brought with them furniture and memories from the old lands. They brought animals and plants too, planted and growing around the house so that little remained of what once had been.

*Mice from the fields moved in to the house as mice usually want to do. Each night the python came out, catching a mouse here and there feeding and sleeping and slipping back into the rust in the roof. No one saw her come and go. No one knew she was there.*

Patient she was, lying quietly through cold winter months, hunting during summer growing slowly or not at all in the slow-motion way of reptiles.

Years passed – the first family grew up and grew old. Then a second then a third. A town grew up around the farmhouse, creeping closer and closer. Sons went away to wars never to return. Daughters married and had children who came to play on the verandahs and the rooms below but seldom did anyone venture to the attic and no one ever saw the dirty hidden corner where the snake still rested.

The seasons came and went, the people came and went, mice flourished and prospered feeding the snake, who remained always silent, but always there. She had no need to leave, all her needs were met in the generations of tiny furred mice and by instinct or by some other knowledge she never let herself be seen by man.

The house aged as the snake grew ever larger five feet, six feet, seven feet long. The people moved out the house stood derelict and abandoned. The town moved around the house and deep within the snake remained living her life at the same slow pace, filled by the mice that flourished in the old, almost empty house.

Developers came to look at the house – its old they said and a dreadful eyesore – let’s tear it down and make room for the future. No said the old folk its part of our heritage lets fix it up, restore it keep it, make it like it was. But the snake slept on, deep in her refuge, the past forgotten, the future unimagined.

Builders came and chopped and changed. They pulled down walls, put up new ones, sanded and painted, refreshed and restored. Story by story from the ground to the rooftops but they never found her refuge – they never saw the old, old snake deep within her rooftop cranny.

They come and go below now students and teachers, in the restored old house and they never see her – the house’s first resident still there in the recess at the top of the house. She comes out at night to catch a mouse. She sleeps for months at a time as she grows older and slower. Eventually she will die but her bones will remain until the old house is finally pulled down then perhaps they will find her at last and lay her to rest with her house.


 

The Story of Wubin   back

Wubin thought he knew everything. He could climb, glide, hunt and find food. He knew every branch, leaf and hollow of his tree and the surrounding forest. He knew which animals were harmless and which were enemies to be avoided. He thought he knew it all – but he was wrong.

Wubin was racing across a tiny branch high in his gum tree. He saw a tasty looking grasshopper clinging to a leaf in a nearby tree. Wubin leaped for it, spreading his furry flaps to catch the breeze. Suddenly he was caught by a Willy Willy. It spun him around, carrying him away from the ground far below.

Wubin lay stunned and confused. He had never been on the ground before. He staggered up and began crawling towards the nearest tree, intent on climbing back to the world he knew. A dark shape appeared beside him. An evil eye glared at him and a powerful beak lunged. Wubin jumped and ran. Once, twice, the beak pecked at him and missed. Wubin scampered faster but on the third strike his luck ran out. He felt the beak sink into his loose fur on his neck and hoist him up. He struggled but it held tight.

An even larger shape, a monster, loomed before him. Unfamiliar sounds thundered in Wubin’s ear. “Drop it you stupid chook! Drop it!”

Something struck the beaked one. Wubin fell to the ground. A large hand scooped him up. Wubin curled into a ball and shut his eyes. The word had suddenly became an unpredictable and unknown place.

Kim opened her hand to look at the mouse. It had a funny feather-like tail and strange flaps of fur between its tiny paws.

“I don’t think you are a mouse at all. She said. But what are you? And what should I do with you? Poor baby!”

Kim carried Wubin into her house and put him in a shoebox with an old sock. Then she called the local wildlife rescuer, Tess. Wubin opened his eyes. It was dark in the shoebox, which was a comfort. Wubin crawled around till he found the sock. He clung to it as he had once clung to his mother – It felt softly reassuring, as she had been. Exhausted by his trials, he fell asleep.

Tess hung up the phone and sighed. It sounded like Kim was bringing her a Feather-tailed Glider. They were such slippery little characters. She had been given a female to look after only a week ago and it had escaped in her bedroom. Tess searched for hours but could not find her in the mess.

Finally in desperation Tess had opened her balcony doors and left them open for three nights in order to give the glider a chance to get out. This time Tess was determined to be more careful.

Kim opened up the door and handed Tess the shoebox. “I saw one of my chickens attacking something. I thought it was a baby mouse so I rescued it, but it’s not a mouse.” Tess peeked in the box. “It’s a Feather Glider, but I don’t think it’s a baby.”

Kim was amazed, “But it’s only as big as my thumb!” she said.

“That’s true, but they are very small. I’ll keep him a few days to make sure he’s all right. Then I’ll bring him back to your place. That way he can rejoin his friends and relatives.”

Kim was relieved. She hadn’t known what to do with the little animal, so she was happy to leave it in Tess’s care. After Kim drove off, Tess took the box to her bathroom. She shut the door tight before she opened the box. “At least if you escape in here, I can find you again!”

She picked Wubin up and gently examined him, confirmed that he was a male and that he had no obvious wounds or broken bones. Wubin uncurled in Tess’s hand and looked at her curiously. He sniffed her hand. It smelled strange to him. She was very big but she spoke softly and didn’t hurt him.

Tess offered Wubin a drink of special animal milk in an eyedropper. He sniffed at it, then curled up in a ball, hiding his face in his fur. “I guess that means you don’t want it. If you were a baby, then you would. Wait a minute and I’ll get you something else.” Tess slipped Wubin back in the box and went to the kitchen to get some honey water.

‘It will do,’ she thought, ‘I shall call him Wubin!’ Tess offered Wubin the honey water and he lapped it up. It had been hours since his ordeal began and he was very thirsty. After she fed him, Tess slipped him into a cotton bag she used when banding birds. It had a drawstring at the top that she pulled tight and then knotted back against itself to prevent Wubin from escaping. In the bottom of the bag she put the sock that the female glider had been in before her escape.

Wubin smelled the smell of the female glider it reassured him that another glider had been here before him. Wubin rested for several hours in the safety of the bag and began to explore. After a few minutes he knew the extent of the bag and where the entrance was. He pushed his nose through the knotted string and slowly stretched the opening until it was wide enough that he could wriggle through.

All that night Wubin explored his prison, looking for a way out so he could find a way back to his family and friends. He ran up and down the shower curtain. He jumped to the sink and ran around the taps. He inspected the drain but the holes on the strainer were too small. (No way out there. He climbed up the wall to the window. Outside he could smell the gum trees but the holes in the screen were too small. He could not escape.) As the sun began to rise, he gave up. He found a box full of odds and ends. He crawled in and fell asleep.

When Tess came in the morning, she knew the instant she picked up the bag that it was empty. She looked everywhere but could not find Wubin. She started over, covering every millimetre of the bathroom. (She looked in the folds of the shower curtain and under the sink. She unfolded every towel and wash cloth.) At last she found him in the box, curled up between the eyeliner and the face cream.

“I should have called you Houdini, I think.” She gathered him up and returned him to his bag. “This will never do, I’ll have to find some way to keep you safe until I can take you back to Kim’s place.”

Tess went outside to her walk-in aviary. It was empty at the moment because she only used it for housing injured or orphaned animals. She inspected it carefully, some of the wire needed replacing but she thought she could make it escape-proof.

Tess worked all day. She mucked out the old straw bedding, replaced the wire mesh and put up shade cloth. She nailed up a shelf and put a small hollow log on it. She cut two saplings and wired them on either side of the shelf. She caught grasshoppers and released them into the cage. She filled a bird feeder with honey water and strapped it to the side of the log. Finally she prepared a glider-sized dinner on a plate, half a grape, slivers of pawpaw and banana plus a small cicada that had drowned in the dog dish.

At last she stood back, hot and sweaty, and surveyed the cage. “This will hold you, Wubin, Houdini or not!” she thought with a sense of satisfaction.

In the cool of the evening, she brought Wubin to his new home. She opened the bag and placed it in the log. Sometime after dark, Wubin came out. He stretched, yawned and preened his silken fur. Then he began to explore. He sniffed the scent of the honey water, followed it and had a long drink. He inspected the food on the plate but none of it appealed to him. He scampered up a sapling and explored it. When he found a grasshopper, he pounced, killed it and then devoured it. Then he started looking for a way back home.

He ran up one tree and down the other. He ran in one end of the log and out the other. He ran all around the wire walls of the cage, looking for holes. He races across the floor, up the brace and onto the shelf. He climbed back down and finally, at the very back of the cage, he found it. A small hole, a rust hold in the solid wall; a hole no bigger than a human thumb.

Wubin wriggled and wriggled and squeezed through the hole. At last he was free. He ran across the grass to the nearest tree. He scampered up the trunk till he found a clump of leaves in which to hide. Then he looked around. The tree was not familiar to him. He sniffed the air and chittered softly in the language of gliders but there was no hint of glider smell in the air and none of his family answered him. Wubin was alone.

For the rest of the night Wubin searched for family, friends or just a familiar tree, but all was strange to him. Finally he found a tiny glider-sized hidey-hole. He checked for predators then he crawled in and fell asleep for the day.

For the next three nights Wubin wandered through the unfamiliar forest. There was plenty of food but danger abounded. He was chased by a very big goanna. A kookaburra swooped over him and almost caught him. He heard the sound of a hungry cat growling in the night. But worst of all was the loneliness.

Wubin could cope with predators if only he had a friend. Each morning as he curled up alone in a new hole, he yearned for the company of his own kind. He missed his family desperately.

Still he kept searching. He never gave up. His brain was too small for existential despair. His courage was too great to give up.

A week passed. Wubin moved further and further away from the cage, up the hill, deeper into the forest. Each night he explored another tree and another, finding new hiding places, new escape routes, new food sources. Then one night he came across a smell that caused his heart to race. It was the smell of the female glider that had been on the sock in the bird bag.

The smell was a few days old. Wubin had a goal now though. He followed the smell. Each time he leaped to a new tree he checked for the smell of the female glider. When he found it he continued, when he did not he back tracked.

Night after night he tracked her. By the third night he knew he was getting close. Her trails were everywhere. She had to be close. He checked for signs of predators then chittered. There was an answer in the next tree.


Wubin ran to the top of his tree and launched himself towards the sound. He landed with a thump and looked around. Coming toward him was a beautiful female glider. Her eyes glittered with excitement. She too had been searching for a companion.

They met cautiously, touching noses, sniffing on another. Then the female turned and scampered away. Wubin followed. All that night they played hide and seek in the treetops. In the morning they curled up together in a hole, just the right size for two tiny gliders. His odyssey was over.

Wubin was home.


 

The Case of the Marbled Frogmouth   back

It all began in Nymboida. A frogmouth was hunting one night and tried to fly through a chicken wire fence. He got hung up and was found the next day by the owner of the chook pen. The Froggie must have hit the fence hard because he was partly paralyzed and had a broken leg. WIRES took the call and Margie picked up the bird, who was a nice red color and who was tentatively identified by the finder as a Marbled Frogmouth.

Now this would be an historical rescue if the bird were indeed a Marbled Frogmouth. It is a rainforest species found mainly in Papua New Guinea. In Australia, it has been found a few times in Far North Queensland, a few times in Southern Queensland and twice it has been reported in the Clarence Valley: Once in the 1860’s from Susan Island and one more confirmed sighting in 1912. It was not picked up at all in the Clarence Valley during the three Bird Atlas Survey of the 1990’s.

The bird was reported to the Threatened Species Coordinator, just in case. Margie debated what to do next because it was obviously badly hurt. Tess heard about the bird through the WIRES grapevine and contacted Margie, who brought the bird out to her place.

Together they examined it and confirmed a broken leg and loss of wing control, but otherwise alert and aware. They tried to identify it and decided it could possibly be a Marbled Frogmouth because it had black and white barred tufts over its eyes and a long, slightly forked tail plus the reddish coloration. He was large though and his chest markings were more like a Tawny than a Marbled. The ID was a tentative maybe, but his size indicated he was an adult male.

Regardless of whether he was a rare Marbled or a common old rufous variety of the Tawny Frogmouth, their first duty was care and comfort. They changed his bedding, made him comfortable and then Margie left him in Tess’s hospital facility. That night she consulted with a local bird expert about treatment and identification. He agreed that Tess was doing the right things treatment-wise and thought it might be a Marbled. so he suggested she take him to the local professional Ornithologist for the identification.

By the next day the bird was eating well and sitting up on his cloth hospital perch. Tess decided to call him Marney. He improved for another day and then took a downward turn, tossing back up the food she gave him. So the next morning she delivered him to the local avian vet, who took x-rays, diagnosed some paralysis, and treated him with cortisone to bring down the spinal swelling.

She took him by Greg, the ornithologist on the way home. Greg took one look and pronounced: “Tawny Frogmouth”.

Tess played devil’s advocate and made him convince her over a half hour that Marnie is a rufous morph of the Tawny species and not the smaller Marbled Frogmouth. He is too big, his breast markings are wrong and his tail is not the narrow, longer than body forked tail. His tufts aren’t long enough either.

So it’s not an historical rescue, just a successful one. Marney has recovered from the paralysis and is able to use his healing broken leg. He has graduated from the hospital facility to the recuperation aviary and should be ready to go home again in a week or so. He is a beautiful bird with a marvelous Frogmouth personality: stern, serious, confident and proud. It’s been a pleasure to help him live and to give him a second chance. You may not be a Marbled Frogmouth, Marney, but you are special to Tess.


 

The Case of the Purple Boxer Shorts   back

The phone rang at six in the morning. Tess jumped up, thinking her mother had fallen or had a heart attack, but no, it was a friend from up the road. “Sorry to wake you up but my son found an echidna by the road just past the three bridges. It was hit but alive. He marked it with a pair of purple boxer shorts. Can you rescue it?”

“No worries” Tess said. “Thanks for the call.” She hung up and started calculating when she could get on the road. Realistically it would be an hour before she could get to the echidna. Pick up the phone and ring Margie in Coutts. Get the answering machine and leave a message: “Sorry to ring so early but there is a hurt echidna on the road a kilometer or so from your place. Can you rescue it?”

A few minutes later, Margie rang back. Yes, she could rescue it. “It’s just past the three bridges as you head towards town. It is marked by a pair of purple underpants. Call me when you get it and we can decide what to do next.”

Off the phone, Tess got dressed, had a quick wash and comb job, wolfed down some brekky and then phone rang. “Margie here. We found the echidna. It’s a good thing he was marked by the purple shorts or we wouldn’t have seen him! He was digging himself in and it took an effort to get him but he is here. There is a lot of blood, poor little thing.”

“Ok, I am on my way. We can check him out and then I can get him to the vet before work.” Tess picked up her cat carry cage and set out, thinking she would find a small echidna at Margie’s house. No way! He was the biggest, fattest echidna she had ever seen. By this time he was curled up tight and although there was a lot of blood about, he was too strong to uncurl and too big to fit into the carry cage. So Tess commandeered Margie’s washing basket and headed off to the vet.

Tess left him there with our Vet medicine book and the Mammal book with the echidna chapters marked. Margie had called ahead to alert them. Luckily two of the vet nurses are now training to be WIRES volunteers as well and they were all happy to take care of the echidna. Tess was not hopeful though, thinking that there must be serious injuries with so much blood.

Tess struggled through a busy morning at work and then made a hurried phone call to the vet: “How is the echidna?” she asked, fully expecting to hear that he had died on the operating table. “All stitched up and ready to go home!” Wow!

After school Tess met the vet surgeon, Anna, who had sewn him up, fixed his nose and given him oxygen to help his breathing, corticosteroids to help his stressed adrenals (a big problem with monotremes apparently) and of course, antibiotics. The stitches were dissolvable but she would like to see him back in ten days and could I give him two shots each over two days to beef up his immune system.


She handed me the needles, neatly labeled: “ for Prickles”. “I named him” she said with a smile. “And a perfect name too” Tess commented, having several sore fingers from trying to unroll him. Even the toweling hadn’t protected me. “How much does he weigh?” I asked. Five kilos was the answer. So much for Margie’s ‘poor little thing!’

Tess took him home and he rested quietly in her hospital room for several days, except for his shots. There was no need for heating because his body temperature wass only 31 C. He had a bed of shredded newpaper and towels and a dark quiet box to rest in.

Then after a week, he decided he had had enough and it was time to go home. Out of the box and around the bathroom, lodging himself behind the throne. No sleep for Tess with the scraping and thumping so the next night he went in the downstairs bathroom. When she looked in the morning it looked like a tornado had been through it. The rolls of toilet paper were ripped to shreds and there were towels everywhere. Obviously he did not think the accommodation was suitable.

Tess spent the day rearranging the lizard enclosure to accommodate an echidna and learning how to dig up termite nests (it’s easy if they are small enough). She put him in and an hour later came back for a look. For a moment Tess thought he had escaped and then she saw a few spines just poking out of the sand and moving gently with his breathing so she left him.

That night he went through that enclosure like a bulldozer. Every rock was upside down, the sand from the bottom was on the top, the termite nest was ripped to shreds. The poor hibernating lizard was lying on his back looking quite dead. Tess was horrified. She held the lizard against her stomach to warm him up and gently blew in his nostrils. Much to her relief he came back to life I decided . Tess decided that Prickles was well enough to go home!

Tess met in the forest where he came from with two other carers for the release ceremony. He was burrowed into his box so carefully they turned it upside down so he would fall into Tess’s well-gloved arms. She put him with his nose facing into a nice dead log. He sat there for a minute and then started burrowing. Little puffs of dirt moved around him and slowly he disappeared into the forest floor.

By the time they left, only a handful of prickles were visible. That afternoon, on the way home from work, Tess stopped to visit him. He was still there, almost completely buried under his log. That night he left, to continue his interrupted search for a mate. May his long life continue and may he make many many puggles to carry on his line.