The Conservation Status of the Eastern Grey Kangaroo is, according to the locals, ” f**k’n millions of the bastards out there”. They’re probably right. On the 5km stretch of road from our block down to the village every evening, hundreds emerge from the golf course, the town common, the rubbish tip and the Nature Reserve – wooded public land on the South side. They cross the road to sup on crops and farm dams on the North side. Hundreds.
No surprise then, that I’m regularly stopping and getting off my bike to drag a carcass from the bitumen to over beyond the tabledrain. Passing motorists give a cheery wave to acknowledge my community-mindedness. But its not the motorists I do it for. Its the carrion-feeders I have in mind. I don’t want the lace monitors, eagles and kites to become collateral victims. Not worried about the ravens, though, they’re canny enough to know which side of the white line is safe.
Roos get a bad rap as naive, blundering idiots but I know the truth, having myself been subject to the retina-frying beams of the locals’ driving lights or the haw, haw horseplay of the fox-shooting hoons, with their battery of photon cannons across the the top of the cab. Blinded, disoriented, all you can do is stop and grope helplessly to what you hope is the left-hand shoulder. I used to give them the finger as they passed but these days you never know who might be on an ice-jag.
Family and mob instincts account for a lot of deaths. It is not always the first roo across the road that cops it but others following dutifully behind.
In the past I would sometimes check the pouch of a dead animal for surviving young but too often I found either dead infants or tiny hairless grubs, too small to survive outside the pouch. A couple of times I have given the coup de grace to an animal that has used its forelegs to claw its way off the road dragging ruined hindquarters. It saddens me for days afterwards and more recently I have selfishly chosen to bear the karmic burden of riding on past. Fortunately there are other countryfolk who, despite their professed disdain for “bloody grasshoppers”, carry a tyre iron or length of pipe in their utes and will stop to end a creatures suffering. Sometimes however, a choice is pressed upon you, like it or not.
One winter morning as I scanned the boundaries of our block, my eye lit on a limb which had hung up on the back fence. Not a tree limb. Plenty of animals get hung up on farm fences, maybe even approaching the number of roadkills. Fencekill is not a term I’ve heard but it is definitely a thing.
As I walked up the back I could see that, in just failing to clear the top wire, the roo had got its leg between the two top wires and its forward momentum had twisted the wires around the leg, leaving it spreadeagled on the other side with one leg up in the air. Unless it could perform a one-legged backwards hop over the fence it was buggered. Bloody unlucky roo, given the shape of our fences – neglected since Mum’s flock died off years ago. There are numerous places where the roos can duck under unhindered. Most do.
The roo started growling as I approached. I climbed through to the other side of the fence so it couldn’t kick or scratch me. A fairly simple matter to prize apart the wires and release the leg. As I was doing so there was a loud, plaintiff cry from the ground nearby. A joey, lying in a tangle on the cold ground, big eyes staring up.
” Oh shit. Here we go “.
Problem: Joey has been lying on the cold ground for who-knows how long. A very angry, traumatised mother is trying to stand up metres away. I can’t approach mother and I’m not sure what her prospects are anyway. No obvious fracture, maybe just a dislocation. If joey doesn’t get back into the pouch, it’ll die of hypothermia. It can no longer stand and mum can’t help. Neither will I be able to put the joey in and even if I could she might reject it because of my smell.
Oh well, bugger it. Joey goes up my jumper. It is frigid. Mum staggers off 20 metres and glares. ” Good luck, Missus, I hope you can have more joeys”.
A wildlife-savvy friend : ” You can only give it kangaroo formula or it will get the scours. If it has hair ( it does ), it can probably survive. They take a lot of looking-after. ”
Wildlife Hotline : ” Your local volunteer, Jason, works for the Shire Council ”
Shire Office: ” Jason is grading rural laneways out in the West Riding. Camped out there for a few days.”
Wildlife Hotline: ” The vet clinic that does pro bono work for us is on Lake Rd. in Town.”
So I get in the car and drive 30kms to the regional centre. Joey, still against my chest is warming up and starting to move around a bit.
I usually make an effort to look presentable when I go to Town but I haven’t thought about that until, wild-haired and unshaven, wearing crocs and trakky dacks Les Murray would be envious of, I step into a full waiting room at the clinic.
They all shrink away from me, clutching up their labradoodles. All eyes are on the crazy homeless person as I front the counter. An assistant comes out with a calico pouch around her neck. When I ease the furry, gangly bundle out into my arms there’s a chorus of sighs. Icy stares melt into compassionate puddles.
“Yes sir, he looks like he’ll be fine. We’ll give him some formula, pop him in this pouch and a carer will pick him up this afternoon.”
I apologise to those waiting for jumping the queue. They are all smiling now.
I don’t know how life ultimately went for young joey. Prognosis was good. But after first seeming to mend, his mother languished. I kept track of her up in the scrub for a couple of days but she was moving a shorter distance each day. Not grazing nor going down to the dam.
Jason the grader driver came by with his firearm on the weekend.
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