Koala Pete’s™ story is inspired by actual events that have occurred in Australia due to the 2019-2020 bushfires. All of the pictures are from news articles circulating on the Internet.
A teardrop slipped down Koala Pete’s™ cheek. A flood of sorrow—and relief—overcame him as he remembered the events that led him to his new home at Koalas In Care.
Let’s listen in as Koala Pete™ recounts the events that led him to the hospital . . .
It was a hot, dry summer afternoon at the Taree forest in Australia. I climbed down my eucalyptus tree, looking forward to a fun day at the beach. I was a happy little koala with a song in my heart, dancing through my forest on my way to the beach. A gentle breeze nudged me along, keeping me cool.
Soon I found the perfect place to play. But first, I decided to take a nap. We like naps. A lot. In fact, we’ll sleep 22 hours in a 24-hour day if we can.
When I was about to dose off, dark angry clouds replaced the happy sunshine that had followed me. Minutes later, a flock of chattering storks flew by. They were in a hurry to get somewhere.
Then it happened. I remember it as if it is happening all over again . . .
Lightning flashes across the sky and strikes a tree. It looks like 1000 matches are lighting up at the same time. A loud clap of thunder follows. Red and orange flames rip their way through my neighborhood. My green eucalyptus leaves becoming red-hot coals. Many of them are jumping into the sky clothed in black clouds of smoke.
I watch, eyes wide open as the burning fire invades my home. I cannot move. I cannot breathe. My heart is pounding like a drum. My world: gone. My juicy eucalyptus leaves disappearing into the angry, smoke-filled sky. What’s happening? Where’s my family? Where are my friends? I have to find them.
Several days later–maybe weeks–when the smoke lifts, I hurry home as fast as a little koala can travel. The hot coals burn my feet and the smoldering fire singes my fur. My eyes sting and my nose is burnt from breathing the ever-present smoke.
My tree is still standing. The bright green eucalyptus leaves now blackened ash. I scurry to the top of what’s left of my tree to get a better look at the neighborhood. Is anybody here? No. Everyone is gone. I am alone. I scramble to find a note, any clue, which would lead me to my family. Nothing.
I hobble back to the beach, feet burning from the hot embers that now cover the forest floor. On the way, I meet a couple other koalas that have escaped the fire. Like me, they are burnt, exhausted and thirsty. Thirsty like never before. All I can think of is a cool green eucalyptus leaf to quench this ever-present thirst.
Somehow we manage to move our aching bodies through the blackened forest. On the way, we meet a kind-hearted fireman who lets us drink from his water bottle. At first, a single drop trickles down my throat. Before long, I guzzle down the refreshing liquid. The fireman rallies his crew to share their water with us. Once satisfied, we continue to the beach. We spend the day making plans to reunite with our families.
Each one of us makes a different plan. Before heading out, I decide to return home for one last night in my tree. In the morning, I pack my bag and begin the long journey to town searching for my family and friends.
In the afternoon I meet a Border Collie. He’s wearing doggy socks to cushion his feet from the hot embers on the forest floor. He’s looking for koalas in need of help. I ask if he knows anything about my family and friends. He thinks he saw them. He told them to go to the Koalas In Care hospital. It’s about 25 miles down the road. He gives me the directions. I’m on my way.
Later I learn that dog’s name is Bear. His owners abandoned him when he was a puppy. A nearby college adopted and trained him to find koalas after bushfires.
After following Bear’s directions for a few miles, I find myself on a winding road through the forest. By this time my throat is one again crying out for even a drop of water. It’s been a long time since that fireman gave me a drink.
My throat is dry like a desert. I start seeing mirages. Eucalyptus leaves piled high and shining lakes of sparkling clear water on the road. I must reach those eucalyptus leaves and the lakes of water. My breath quickens. My pace picks up. My heart races in spite of the burns that refuse to go away. Water ahead. It won’t be long now. Just around the corner . . .
Ugh! I feel as if someone punched me in the stomach. My heart sinks when the mirage melts into more heat-stricken Australian pavement. How can I take another step?
When I’m about to give up, a small team of bicyclists appear. A rider offers me a drink from her water bottle. I climb up on her bike to drink. That ice-cold water soothes my hot throat. I look into my hero’s eyes, grasping her hand, forgetting everything as the life-giving water washes down my throat.
Refreshed and ready to continue on, I begin searching for a place to spend the night. I find a eucalyptus tree on the side of the road. The fire even left a few leaves on it. That should quiet the persistent rumbling in my tummy. No food has entered my mouth since the fire. Back home when life was good, and I was hungry, I’d eat two pounds of eucalyptus leaves in a day. I sleept well that night.
In the morning, I pack my bag and start down the tree. I step on a limb weakened from the fire. It breaks. It crashes to the ground. I crash to the ground with it.
I’m stunned, confused and crying for help. A kind human appears in the midst of my distress to rescue me. Without thought, she removes the shirt from her back to swaddle my singed body and burned feet. She gives me some eucalyptus leaves and puts me in her car. I feel safe with her. Yet I wonder where she is taking me and what is going to happen now.
I remember my mother would often tell me something she learned a long time ago from a TV Show, Mr. Rogers’ Neighborhood. It is about what to do when you’re scared.
Look for the helpers. You will always find people who are helping.
After I settle into the backseat of this woman’s car, I have time to think about the people who have helped me. The fireman, the bicyclist, Bear and now this lady. I guess my mom was right. Humans are kind. I can find helpers when scary things happen.
This nice lady got me settled into her car then she brought some eucalyptus leaves for me to munch on. At first I’m careful and just nibble on the leaves. Before long I’m munching these tender morsels down as quickly as I can. It has been too long since eating such fine food. Oh yes, humans are incredible helpers!
The rumbles in my tummy have now quieted. Time for a nap. (I wonder what will happen when I wake up.)
The car rambles along the road while I sleep. After what seems like only minutes, the car stops and the lady nudges me to wake up.
Where are we?
We’re at Koalas in Care. This is a hospital for koalas. They tell me that Mr. and Mrs. McLeod have been helping koalas here in Taree for over 20 years. They’ve even turned their living room into a koala hospital just for koalas like me!
When I first arrive, Mrs. McLeod cleans my scorched fur and removes my peeling skin. She gives me a set of towels and some more eucalyptus leaves to eat. Life is getting better now. Mom was right, you will always find people who are helping when life gets hard.
After I settle into my new home in a laundry basket, I ask the other koalas what it’s like living here. They tell me that every day a volunteer will put cream on my feet and mittens on my paws to keep the cream in place. That is supposed to help my injuries heal faster. (I wonder if Bear’s mittens came from here.) . . .
I’ve been here a couple of weeks now. Wanted to update you on some of the activities.
First off, let me tell you that there are a lot of koalas here. Last time I counted, there were 24. Each one of us came here burnt, hungry and thirsty. My friend, Sooty, has been here the longest. One of the volunteers took a picture of him when he first came. He pulls it out of his basket to show me. His paws were burnt, his nose, chin and fur were all scorched.
Sooty is struggling to survive. I want to do what I can to help him.
I ask him if he’s seen any of my family or friends. Sooty’s sure he met my mother. Says that she stayed here for a couple days and then left. He can’t remember where she was going though.
That’s ok, Sooty. At least I know she is alive. You rest now, my new friend.
There’s always something new happening here at Koalas In Care Hospital. There’s plenty of water and enough eucalyptus leaves to keep my tummy from growling.
Yesterday I watched Lizzy and her baby, Phantom. Lizzy had to have an operation because she was hit by a car trying to cross the highway. (My mom always told me to look both ways when I cross the road.) Phantom kept hold of her the entire time. I hear that both of them are doing well now.
Last week I made a bit of a mess in my basket. But hey, who ever heard of a house trained koala? Nonetheless, the volunteers weren’t very happy with me.
I am getting stronger now. My paws are healing up and my nose is feeling a lot better now. I’m enjoying my new friends, especially Sooty. He’s having a hard time healing up.I think that’s why he sleeps most of the time in his basket. When he’s awake, I love listening to his stories.
I’ve been here about 4 weeks now. They have given me a job. I get to mop the floors. Think they gave me this job because of the mess I made in my basket. That’s fine with me. I enjoy mopping the floor. Besides, the volunteers smile when they see me doing my job.
Sometimes the new koalas think that the mop is a eucalyptus tree with the leaves on the bottom of it. They try it out, but it just doesn’t taste like eucalyptus leaves! I giggle when I see their face wrinkle up trying to eat it.
Every day I wait for the mailman to come. I keep hoping for a letter from my family. I want to know if they are ok. I want to know where they are. Every night I dream about the old days when we were together laughing and sharing stories about the day’s adventures. I especially liked it when Grandma would tell stories about her childhood. The forests were so different when she was young.
Oh, I see the mailman. Could this be the day I finally get a letter from home? I sure hope so! There is a letter addressed to me. My hands are shaking and my heart is pounding as I open it. It’s from my grandma! She’s been trying to find me.
Dear Koala Pete,™
We’ve been trying to find you ever since the fire broke out in our neighborhood. We do hope you are alive and safe. We miss you more than you could ever know.
We all escaped the fire with only a few burns. When it broke out, we rushed to the top of our trees. We were crying out for help when a flock of storks flew by. They picked us up and took us to the Koala Hospital in Taree. Mr. & Mrs. McLeod took good care of us while we were there. After a few days we had to leave to make room for others who were in worse shape than us.
Uncle Fizzle went back to the old neighborhood to look for you but, of course, you were gone. We decided to start over here in Sydney. The bushfires have been through here, but we were able to find a few eucalyptus trees.
Uncle Miles was the only one who had a mishap getting here. Sally the Stork was carrying him. But, as you can imagine, he was simply too heavy for Sally. (How many times have we told him that he shouldn’t be eating a bowl of ice cream every night?) She dropped him on the road. A little boy discovered him. He was thirsty and hungry, of course. Eventually, he found us as we were making our way to our new home. Now we are waiting for you. It will be a great day when we see you again, little Koala Pete.™
Let me know if you get this letter. We are all worried about you. I have much to tell you. If I hear from you, I will send you stories of our adventures. When we get together again we can put all of our letters into a special book. One day you might even give it to your children so they can know from our letters how the Australian bushfires affected us.
Koala Pete™ and his grandmother have finally connected with each other by mail. Visit Koala Pete’s™ blog to read the letters between him and his grandma. Grandma Ko and the rest of the family live in the forest, keeping Koala Pete™ updated on news in the wild. Koala Pete™ has been adopted by Pal who takes him home on weekends where she reads beloved children’s books to him. She and her family also enjoy simple activities together that create strong family ties.
Hope to see you soon on the blog.