Kiri Koala and Smokey

Photo, young koala riding on its mother’s back. Caption reads: “Kiri still rode on her mother’s back.”

Kiri Koala and Smokey children’s story by Iris Carden

Kiri Koala was too big to fit in her mother’s pouch, but still small enough to ride on her Mum’s back. 

Kiri and her Mum, who was called Koko, lived in the koala nursery of a zoo.  Koko told her the zoo was bigger than the nursery and when Kiri was old enough, they’d go to the main koala enclosure.

Kiri and Koko had other friends in the nursery. 

Their main keeper was named Carol, and she was in charge of all the koalas, but other keepers visited when Carol had her days off.  Every day, Carol or another keeper would clean the nursery, and bring in new big eucalyptus branches, with lots of fresh leaves.

One day, when Koko was having a nap and Kiri was exploring the nursery, a terrible smell came into the nursery. The day was suddenly darker, it was harder to see, and even the air tasted wrong.

Kiri ran to Koko and climbed up on her back, hanging on tightly.  “Mum, I’m scared. Something is happening,” Kiri said.

Koko looked around and sniffed the air.  “This is fire.” She said, “It is a terrible thing for wild koalas, because fire destroys trees and it hurts animals, but we are safe here.  Our keepers will not let the fire in here. The fire will be in the trees near the zoo.”

Carol and other keepers came to the nursery.  “It’s all right everyone,” Carol said, “we’re just taking you to the hospital, where the air conditioning will filter out the smoke.  It’s safer for the little ones.”

Kiri, Koko and the other koalas were used to keepers picking them up and carrying them, so they were not frightened of being carried.  They were, however, a bit frightened of the smell of fire.

The mother and baby koalas were placed in a cool, clean, white room, where everything smelled like the stuff the keepers used to clean with, only it smelled stronger.  

“We’ll get you all back to the nursery when the smoke clears,” Carol told the koalas. 

Carol always spoke to the koalas, as if she knew they could understand her, even though she did not understand the koala language of grunts, growls and roars.

Carol gave Kiri a scratch behind her ears, then went out and came back with a big eucalyptus branch.

Later that day, the keepers moved the mothers and babies back to the nursery.

The fire smell was still there, but not as strong.  They were near the outer fence of the zoo, and could see that just on the other side of the fence, the trees were black and no longer had any leaves left.

“I hope no koalas were caught in that,” Koko said.  “As far as I can see everything’s black and dead.”

That night, after the keepers were gone, Kiri heard a noise on the other side of the fence.

Kiri had a secret: she knew how to get out of the nursery.  She climbed up to the top of the enclosure, and squeezed through a small hole in the roof.  Then she climbed down the outside.

“Kiri, you stay away from where the fire was.  Don’t climb the fence. It could be dangerous,” Koko said.

Kiri ran to the fence and called out:  “Is someone there?”

A koala, a little bit smaller than her, came over to the fence, walking slowly. 

“I’m Kiri, what’s your name?” Kiri said.

“What’s a name?” 

“It’s what humans call you so they know which koala you are.”

“I don’t know any humans, and I don’t think I have a name,” the little koala answered. Then she said:  “I can’t find my mother, and my foot hurts and I’m hungry.”

“I can’t help you find your mother or fix your foot, but I can get you food.”

KIri ran back to the nursery, and called out, “Mum, there’s a little koala who has no food.  Can you throw down some leaves for me to take to her?”

Koko and the other koalas pulled leaves off the branches they’d been given, and pushed them through the cage wire.  Kiri picked them up and ran to the fence, pushing them through to the other little koala. She ran back and forwards with leaves lots of times.

The koala ate all of the leaves Kiri brought. 

“That helped, but what do I do if I can’t find my mother? And what do I do about my foot?”

“I can’t fix those things, but I can bring you food every night, OK?”

“Thank you,” the little koala said.

For two nights Kiri ran to the fence, taking leaves for the little koala, who still had not found her mother, and who seemed to have more trouble walking each night.

On the third night, Kiri was passing leaves through the wire of the fence when she heard a voice behind her. 

“Oh, so that’s why you koalas have been going through so much food, you’ve been feeding an extra,” Carol said.  “I thought I’d watch to see what was going on.”

She looked at the little wild koala. “That foot doesn’t look good.  I think you need to see the vet.  I’ll get help first thing in the morning.  In the meantime, let’s get you a decent feed.”

Carol picked up Kiri and carried her to a big shed.  She opened the door, and inside Kiri saw big shelves, and fridges, and eucalyptus branches standing in buckets of water.  “This is where we store and prepare all the animals’ food,” Carol said.  “Let’s get your friend a nice branch. Which one should we give her?”

Kiri reached out towards a branch.

Carol picked it up in one hand, while she kept holding Kiri with the other, went to the fence, and threw the branch over the top.  

“That will have to do for now,” Carol said.

The little koala seemed frightened, but Kiri used grunts and snorts and growls to explain what Carol and said and that Carol was going to get her more help with her foot in the morning.

Then Carol put Kiri back in the nursery.  “We’re going to fix your little escape hole in the roof tomorrow as well, you little sneak,” she said.

The next day, Kiri and Koko could see keepers on the other side of the fence.  They caught the little koala and put it in a carry box.

“They’ll get help for your friend now,” Koko told Kiri.

Later Carol and another keeper came to the nursery and picked up Kiri and Koko.  “I think your friend needs to see someone she knows,” Carol said.

They were taken back to the hospital, and were put in a small area where the little koala was hiding in a corner, with a big bandage around her leg.

Before the door closed behind them, they heard the vet tell Carol: “I don’t think she can go back to the wild, she’s too small, and even after the burns heal, that leg won’t be strong enough.”

“Hello.  This is my Mum.  The keepers thought you might like some friends to visit.”

“My leg feels strange,” the koala said.  “And they put something smelly on it.”

Koko sniffed.  “I’ve smelled that before, on animals rescued from other fires.  It’s burn cream.  It will help make your leg better,” she said.  

“It will get better?” The little koala moved out of the corner.

“I’m sure it will,” Koko answered.  “That’s what the humans do in the hospital.  They help animals get better.”

“Will they help me find my mother?”

Koko was sad.  “I’m sorry little one.  Animals who are lost in the fire usually aren’t found.  The humans here will look after you as well as they can.”

“What will I do without a mother?”

“You’ll share my mother with me, won’t she, Mum?” Kiri said.

“If you want,” Koko answered.

Carol came into the room.  “Sorry guys,” she said.  “Vet says visiting time is over.  You can come back tomorrow.” She took them back to the nursery.

The next day they visited again, and the little koala was starting to feel a little better, and a little braver.

The day after that, instead of taking Kiri and Koko to the hospital, Carol took the little koala to the nursery for a short visit.  

“We’re going to see how well Smokey does in here,” she said, as she gently put the little koala down on a branch.

“Hey everyone, this is my friend,” Kiri said to all of the koalas in the nursery.

“What’s your name?” a very young koala asked the newcomer.

“I don’t understand a lot of what the humans say, but I think they call me Smokey,” she answered.

“Who’s going to look after you?” the very young koala asked.

“I am,” Koko said.  “And Kiri’s going to help me. I can’t carry you both at the same time, so you’ll have to take turns riding on my back.”

“I’m big enough to walk, and Smokey’s got a sore foot,” Kiri said. “You can carry her, at least until her foot’s better. I can still cuddle with you on the branch.”

So Smokey found a new home,.  She still missed her own mother, but she felt safe and happy with her new family.

Note: I took this photo on a visit to Australia Zoo, where there is indeed both an animal hospital and a koala nursery. The day I took the photo there was a fire in the bush near the zoo, which inspired the story. Everything else is entirely made up.

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By Iris Carden

Iris Carden is an Australian indie author, mother, grandmother, and chronic illness patient. On good days, she writes. Because of the unpredictability of her health, she writes on an indie basis, not trying to meet deadlines. She lives on a disability support pension now, but her ultimate dream is to earn her own living from her writing.


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