Book Review: The 99th Koala by Kailas Wild

This account of the koala-rescue campaign in bushfire-ravaged Kangaroo Island is gripping and very emotional. Accompanied by superb photos, arborist Kailas Wild tells a story sometimes dramatic and inspiring, and at other times sad and heartrending, packed with tense and harrowing descriptions of koala rescues.

As one of the few professional tree-climbers/ experienced koala handlers called to Kangaroo Island following the wildfires that swept through parts of Australia in 2019, Kailas used his rope climbing equipment to scale 30 metre high burnt trees to flag down traumatised koalas, bundle them into pet carriers, and drive them to the animal hospital for treatment – or sometimes to be euthanised.

As you read the book you feel amazed he didn’t suffer long-lasting mental health difficulties following this incredibly harrowing and challenging time on Kangaroo Island. He is, indeed, very open about his emotional distress and his mental trauma. Throughout the book the reader is moved by his skill and courage, in this dangerous and tough work.

Kailas Wild with rescued koala

Kailas gives many fascinating details of his work, including for example his knowledge of how to test the structural integrity of a fire damaged tree before he starts climbing; his endurance of scratches from the claws of frightened koalas; and the best way to handle them, to avoid the very real danger of being bitten by their knife-sharp teeth. The photos are often dramatic and impactful; shots of him up a tree trying to reach a koala on an adjacent tree, images of a burnt koala, photos which make clear his own mental trauma, visible in his face.

His working days among the burnt plantations involved 10-12 hours of physically and emotionally draining labour. He spent “days alone amongst burnt trees and dead animals… and even the successful rescues are traumatic.”

After a considerable time in which he feels a lack of co-ordination and resources, he finally gets the help he needs from two other wildlife rescue experts – Deb and Fraya. The efforts they go to as the terrified koalas resist capture is astonishing. Their own stress is compounded by the knowledge of the stress to which they are subjecting the koalas – and then at the end the rescued animals may have to be euthanised.

The author is very open about the toll this takes on his mental health. He also considers the ethics of human intervention in the lives of wild animals suffering an environmental disaster; does his work compromise the ability of the wild animals to live independently when released back to the wild, having become over-reliant on humans? He also describes the moment when they realise the risk of injury to the koalas themselves outweighs the benefits of attempting rescue.

Finally the time comes when Kailas and his colleagues realise they have done everything they can, and the remaining koalas, having already survived this long, will most likely thrive.

A deeply moving book for all those who love animals, care about environmental issues and are interested in wildlife conservation, but also an account of courageous human endeavour and compassion, in the face of ethical dilemmas.

Australia and New Zealand Mini Series Part 14: Dorrigo Rainforest Centre, New South Wales: a Glimpse into Ancient Gondwana

This is the fourteenth in my series of short reflections on different places in Australia and New Zealand, which I visited in November 2019.

Map of Australia and New Zealand

In my last post I wrote about the charming small New South Wales town of Bellingen with its colonial-style buildings, its church with beautiful stained glass windows and its precious colony of grey-headed flying foxes on Bellingen Island.

A climb into the mounttins north of Bellingen brings us to Dorrigo Rainforest Centre. Here visitors may take the Skywalk, with panoramic views over the pristine rainforest. This rainforest gives us a glimpse into Gondwana, the remnant of the vast continent which existed before Australia broke off from Antarctica and began to drift north.

Gondwana Rainforest
Gondwana Rainforest

Dorrigo was one of the few national parks open in the region at the time of our visit, because of the tragic bushfires sweeping Australia. The sky was blue and clear as we drove higher, but later became misty and the atmosphere filled with the smell of smoke, carried by the wind from the epicentres of the bushfires. As I write, bushfires are still burning in areas of Australia; and yet we may see signs of hope, in the power of nature to fight back against our interference in the world’s ecosystems.

In the Visitor Centre, regularly updated information was on display about the national park closures in the area, reminding us all of the vulnerability of this, one of our planet’s greatest treasures: the rainforest.

When we took the Skywalk and the Lyrebird walk through the rainforest, interpretative signs provided all sorts of fascinating information about the history, geography, biology and anthropology associated with the rainforest. We heard the high fluting call of the lyrebirds as we walked.

We learned that local Gumbaynggirr aboriginal people describe the rainforest canopy as “a protective blanket over the land.

Farmers clearing land for agriculture have called it “the impenetrable scrub.

Citysiders wanting to escape from the big smoke name it “the ultimate green.”

Conservationists agree the rainforest is “our magnificent heritage.”

Later after lunch in the Visitor Centre café we saw a film which told us that only 20% of the world’s rainforests survive; in regard to climate change we may already be past the tipping point; the rainforests are crucial to the health and quality of life on this planet.

Rainforests are our most precious natural resource.

Although some experts believe we may be ‘past the tipping point’ we must never give up doing all we can to save them.

View of the rainforest from the Dorrigo Rainforest Centre Skywalk, New South Wales
Interpretative sign at Dorrigo Rainforest Centre, New South Wales, showing a map of the Dorrigo National Park and surrounding area
Interpretive sign on the Lyrebird Walk, Dorrigo Rainforest Centre, New South Wales, “Not all Rainforests Are the Same”
A glimpse of ancient Gondwana

SC Skillman, psychological, suspense, paranormal fiction & non-fiction. My next book, Paranormal Warwickshire, will be published by Amberley Publishing on 15th June 2020 and is available to pre-order now either online, or from the publisher’s website, or from your local bookshop.

Australia and New Zealand Mini Series Part 9: Sawtell Heritage Village, New South Wales

This is the ninth in my series of short reflections on different places in Australia and New Zealand, which I visited in November 2019.

Map of Australia and New Zealand

We travelled south from the Gold Coast along the New South Wales coastline. After visiting Byron Bay Lighthouse we headed further south to Sawtell where we were staying for three nights. On the way we passed through the town of Grafton, further inland, where we saw the terrible effects of the tragic bushfires which have afflicted Australia in 2019 and 2020.

Grafton, New South Wales, November 2019

The air was filled with an eerie orange smog, a frightening and sinister reminder that the bushfires were raging not that far away, destroying homes and wildflife habitats: and that so much of Australia is suffering from dry conditions and extreme heat, and that many have lost their properties and some have lost their lives. As I write, these areas are still desperately in need of rain.

We passed on further down the coast to Sawtell. Here, the air was clearer, and we found our holiday park cabin close to the beach. We could sit outside on the deck in the warm, humid atmosphere, later relieved by a cool breeze. The roar of the surf on the pale golden beach formed a calming backdrop, as did the cicadas, rising in a powerful chorus among the chirping native birds.

Sawtell itself is a delightful and very pretty village to walk around, and is known as a heritage village. A small settlement was developed at Sawtell from 1863. It has an interesting history which you may read here on this website.

From Sawtell we visited two points on the spectacularly beautiful New South Wales coastline: Urunga and Smoky Cape at South West Rocks. More about them on my next post, which will be number ten in this series.

Sawtell Heritage Village, New South Wales

SC Skillman

psychological, suspense, paranormal fiction & non-fiction

My next book, Paranormal Warwickshire

will be published by Amberley Publishing on 15th June 2020

and is available to pre-order now from Amazon.

Australia and New Zealand Mini Series Part 2: Brisbane Forest Park, Queensland: Jolly’s Lookout

This is the second in a series of short reflections on different places in Australia and New Zealand, which I visited in November 2019.

Map of Australia and New Zealand

Today’s post is about a high place in Brisbane Forest Park, Queensland, which is very dear to my heart. During the time I lived in Australia, from 1986 to 1990, I often visited this lovely lookout, and gazed at the view across Samford Valley toward the Glasshouse Mountains in the distance.

On each visit I would meet several kookaburras, along with the goanas and possums. This time however I found the lookout very dry, and no kookaburras in sight. The region has been suffering from drought, and this was very much in evidence in the bushland of Brisbane Forest Park, where signs warned of a high risk of bushfires and a total fire ban.

However, at the time of writing, I understand there have been heavy rainstorms in Brisbane. But the people of New South Wales still long for those rains to come as they continue to suffer severe drought with dried up grassland and tragic bushfires.

Here are a few photos of this special place.

SC Skillman

psychological, suspense, paranormal fiction & non-fiction

My next book, Paranormal Warwickshire

will be published by Amberley Publishing on 15th June 2020