s/y Nine of Cups
Gippsland Lakes - Victoria
Raymond Island Koalas
January 2012
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We had thought we'd visit
Raymond Island once and that
would be that. As it turned out, we
visited nearly everyday and every
day  offered something new to see
and experience. So, Raymond
Island warrants its own web page
because you just can't get enough
koala pictures or birds or roos
or...  The island is a wildlife
wonderland and a well-kept secret
... shh! don't tell anyone!
Ferries have linked Raymond Island to Paynesville since
1889. It's only a 5-minute ferry ride, free for pedestrians.
A marked "Koala Trail", only
1.2km long, led us along streets
through pleasant neighborhoods
on the island. Large rocks with
placards provided information
about koalas, their habits, their
lives and their habitat.
As soon as we got off the ferry, we knew
we were in koala-land. Painted koalas
marked the sidewalk and street signs
warned us to beware island wildlife.
It was hard to spot them at first. They blended in with the
crooks of the trees in which they slept. We had sore necks
from staring up at the eucalyptus trees, trying to sight just one
koala. In actuality, there were dozens.
Here's how it started...
Koalas were not native to Raymond Island, but were native
to the Victoria area. In 1953, Mrs. Gamble wrote to
authorities asking for some koalas. Australia's koala
population was dwindling and she thought Raymond Island
would make a good habitat for them. 42 koalas  were
shipped to Raymond Island from Phillip Island. They
thrived. By 2003, the koala population grew to over 600
which put their food supply under stress. The government
instituted a population control program which includes
fertility control and relocation of some of the koalas.
The koala (Phascolarctos cinereus) is an
arboreal herbivorous marsupial native to
Australia, and the only extant representative of
the family Phascolarctidae. The scientific name
of the koala's genus, Phascolarctos, is derived
from Greek phaskolos "pouch" and arktos
"bear". Its species name, cinereus, is Latin and
means "ash-colored".
Although the koala is not a
bear, English-speaking settlers
from the late 18th century first
called it koala bear due to its
similarity in appearance to
bears. Although taxonomically
incorrect, the name koala bear
is still in use today outside
Australia – its use is
discouraged because of the
inaccuracy in the name. The
word koala comes from the
Aborigine Dharuk language.
Although koalas obtain most of
their water from leaves -- the
name koala is thought to mean
"no drink" in several native
Aboriginal tongues -- they do
occasionally drink water at the
edges of streams.
The koala was hunted almost to
extinction in the early 20th
century, largely for its fur. Millions
of furs were traded to Europe and
the United States, and the
population has not fully recovered
from such decimation. Extensive
cullings occurred in Queensland in
1915, 1917, and again in 1919
when over one million koalas
were killed with guns, poisons,
and nooses.
The koala lives almost entirely on
eucalypt leaves. This is likely to be
an evolutionary adaptation that
takes advantage of an otherwise
unfilled ecological niche, since
eucalypt leaves are low in protein,
high in indigestible substances, and
contain phenolic and terpene
compounds that are toxic to most
species. Like wombats and sloths,
the koala has a very low metabolic
rate for a mammal and rests
motionless for about 16 to 18 hours
a day, sleeping most of that time.
The koala's five fingers include
two opposable thumbs,
providing better gripping ability.
The first two fingers are
positioned in apposition on the
front paws and the first three
fingers for the hind paws.The
koala is one of the few mammals
(other than primates) that has
fingerprints. Koala fingerprints
are similar to human fingerprints;
even with an electron
microscope, it can be difficult to
distinguish between the two.
The koala is broadly similar in
appearance to the wombat (its
closest living relative), but has a
thicker coat, much larger ears,
and longer limbs. The koala has
large, sharp claws to assist with
climbing tree trunks. Weight
varies from about 14 kg (31 lb)
for a large southern male, to
about 5 kg (11 lb) for a small
northern female.
A baby koala is referred to as a
joey and is hairless, blind, and
earless. At birth the joey, only 20
mm (0.8 in) long, crawls into the
downward-facing pouch on the
mother's belly (which is closed by
a drawstring-like muscle that the
mother can tighten at will) and
attaches itself to one of the two
teats. Young remain hidden in the
pouch for about six months, only
feeding on milk. During this time
they grow ears, eyes, and fur.
The male koala, like many
marsupials, has a bifurcated
penis. The female has two lateral
vaginas and two separate uteri,
which is common to all marsupials.
Time to leave Raymond Island, but we're
hoping to be back next Spring. In the
meantime, enjoy sailing with us to
Deal
Island in the Bass Strait.
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Australia Birds
It's not just about koalas on Raymond
Island. We met new friends, Jim & Linda,
after Jim answered our radio hail for local
knowledge about the Lakes Entrance bar.
An ex-pat American couple, they came to
Australia nearly 40 years ago on a teaching
contract and never left. They've been great!
We took a short trip to Coralie's farm on the
north side of the island. There are usually
kangaroos everywhere as evidenced by the roo
poo on her lawns. But today, with lots of wind,
there were none, so we went searching for them
in the bush. Not much luck, but we did find
some huge wombat burrows.
Above, Coralie and her granddaughters, Zoe (left) and Cassie(right). As we walked
across the paddock and grounds of the 20-hectare farm, we thought what a wonderful
place for children to run and roam. At right, Zoe displays her finger-knitting and Cassie
shows her first effort at patchwork quilting which was pretty impressive.
Beware Drop Bears!
An Aussie friend e-mailed us asking if we'd seen any
drop bears and advising that we watch our for them.
Hmm! After a little internet research, here's what we
found out. A drop bear is a fictitious Australian
marsupial. They're commonly said to be unusually
large, vicious, carnivorous koalas that inhabit treetops
and attack their prey by dropping onto their heads
from above. They are an example of local lore
intended to confuse tourists and amuse locals, similar
to the jackalope of Colorado.

It is often suggested that
doing ridiculous things
like having forks in your hair
or Vegemite  spread behind
your ears will deter these
vicious creatures. So far,
these suggesgtions have  worked well for us.
We also spotted an echidna, a most
unusual  Australian animal  which seems
to be a cross between a porcupine and
an anteater.
We walked back to Coralie's farm one day and the kangaroos were waiting for us.
We also spotted lots of birds like the galah
(ga-LAH) above.
Best of all, were the koalas we spotted on the road back to town. We noticed a
female eating leaves first and then upon closer inspection, we noticed her little joey high
in the tree above her. As we moved closer to take photos, the mama koala moved
protectively closer to her fuzzy, fluffy baby.
The view  from Coralie's deck was
like a pastoral painting.
Named after a monster in
ancient Greek mythology,
echidnas (eh-kid-nah)  together
with the platypus, are the only
extant monotremes, i.e.
mammals that lay eggs. Echidnas
are small, solitary mammals
covered with coarse hair and
spines. Superficially, they
resemble the anteaters of South
America and other spiny
mammals such as hedgehogs and
porcupines. They have snouts
which have the functions of both
mouth and nose.  Baby echidnas
are called puggles.
The morning smelled fresh and earthy as we
walked to the farm. The scent of ecalyptus
and pine and fragrant flowers wafted on the
air. The road was lined in banksia trees and
ferns and flora we could not identify.
Hoping the locals will help me out here.
Read an article about us in the
local Paynesville Post.