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Slow and steady wins the day

100 year old plus some

100 years old plus some

My first ever pet disappeared into someone’s soup. No, he didn’t fall. We were fresh out from England and didn’t know that in Africa tortoise was a local delicacy. I had him about a year until he was fat enough… I mean, until he ‘disappeared.’

In that year, I fell in love.

Most 6 year olds girls I knew played with dolls and prams and nice clean girly stuff. But not me. My tortoise and I were best mates out in our red soil yard. We played doctors and nurses (that’s another story – sorry Blackie the rabbit) and made pretend houses from mud, sticks and grass. We nibbled home grown peanuts and took turns on the swing. Until the shock discovery of the empty pen.

He’s run away, said my mum.

A tortoise. Run away? But I believed her, and grieved like only a 7 year old can, with a private memorial service of course. I never stopped hoping he’d come on home, and it was only many years later I found out about the soup.

Sam with tortoiseSince then, I’ve always had a thing for tortoises. Perhaps it’s their smiley faces. Or their ungainly gait. Either way, it led me to Ecuador last month to see the giant tortoises of the Galapagos Islands. And they didn’t disappoint. I was surprised how active they were for such heavy animals (they weigh on average 250kg), and how tolerant they were of us snapping cameras in their faces. The ones we saw were over 100 years old, living completely in the wild. The Darwin Research Institute collects most of the eggs (each female only lays one egg per year) and raises the tortoises in captivity until they are three years old. After that, the introduced predators, like rats and dogs, won’t eat them, they’re released in the area they came from, and they thrive.

The Galapagos is certainly worth a visit, if you happen to be passing! Some of the other treats were beautiful Boobie birds, dinosaur like iguanas and bright red chested frigate birds. I can feel a story coming on …

Boobie Bird of the Galapagos

Boobie Bird of the Galapagos


Land based iguana

Frigate bird

Male Frigate bird




When I grow up …

my family and other animalsOne of my favourite books when I was young was ‘My Family and Other Animals” by Gerald Durrell. I so much wanted to be Gerry – living on an island in Greece, collecting animals and exploring nature all day. In high school, I toyed with becoming a marine biologist so I could swim with dolphins, or becoming a vet so I could work with elephants in the wilds of Africa. But my ever practical Dad talked me out of both options, and instead I chose a degree in Agriculture. A sensible and wise choice.

Actually, I loved working with farmers, but don’t you always wonder, what if …?

This year, I had the pleasure in meeting a real life park ranger, the talented and compassionate Kristen from the Daisy Hill Koala Centre. Kristen has many roles, including caring for koalas that come to the centre after recovering from injury or disease. This is what she said about being a ranger:

Kristen with Elsa

“I always wanted to work with animals, right from about the age of six. I thought maybe I would grow up to be a cat minder, or a pet sitter or maybe a ranger. To become a park ranger, I studied Applied Science at Gatton, followed by a six month course at TAFE studying native animal care. (I started with Environmental Science, but there was way too much chemistry.) Once I was finished, I volunteered in a wildlife park at the Gap in Brisbane, before getting the job at Daisy Hill. The best part of my job is having a close relationship with koalas, and the worst is seeing some of the koalas we pick up in the koala ambulance.”

In the picture above, Kristen is feeding a beautiful female koala called Elsa. Elsa was injured by a car at eight months old and arrived at the centre after she was unable to return to the wild. She’d had an upset stomach a few days before, and Kristen collected some droppings from the healthy koalas to feed to Elsa to return some healthy bacteria to her system. A bit like how we would take Inner Health Plus if our system was out of whack. Elsa patiently sucked up all the syringes Kristen had made, and then went off to eat some fresh eucalypt leaves collected by other rangers in the park. It was clear how close Kristen was to her koalas and her knowledge and commitment to them was inspiring.

Daisy Hill koalaDaisy Hill is having an Open Day on January 19th  if you want to meet Kristen, or Elsa, or even me, as I will be attending. It’s a great opportunity to learn more about koalas or about becoming a ranger, or just to see koalas up close, for free. For details, see here. For information about what you can do to help koalas, see my website.

Thanks to our teachers

Can anyone make a difference?

I’ve been privileged these last few weeks to speak in some local schools about koala conservation while talking about my book Smooch & Rose. What a delight it has been! I have attended koala consevation meetings and read articles about the rapidly falling numbers of koalas in SE Queensland, and I often find myself in a state of despair about the fate of our furry little friend. But after my recent school visits, a tiny ray of hope has broken through the gloom.

Welcome sign from Redlands State SchoolNot only have the students I’ve visited been well informed and enthusiastic about wildlife conservation, they are encouraged to embrace this passion by their wonderful teachers. When I ask students about what is killing our koalas, they know the answer. Habitat destruction, disease, dog attacks and car fatalities. Over 16,000 koalas have been killed in the last few years, which is way too many. Students as young as seven have great ideas about how to prevent these unnecessary deaths and they are confident and optimistic with their views.

This confidence comes from great teaching.

So thanks to the teachers and parents of our next generation. Thanks to you, I am starting to feel hopeful that our koala may have a future. If the students I’ve met these last few weeks are any indication, standing up for Australia’s favourite icon will be second nature to them. They haven’t lost their way about what is important and as one boy put it, ‘we need koalas because they make us happy’. Yes they do. Like many things in nature, koalas can’t be quantified in dollar terms or by a list of their useful products. Koalas make us happy and our children’s children need to have them in their lives.

When I wrote Smooch & Rose, I hoped that the message ‘anyone can make a difference’ would stick. I’m starting to see it will. I just hope it won’t be too late.

What can you do to help?

Koalas should be protected.