Sunday, August 14, 2005

The emu ate my baby

I went to the Tidbinbilla nature reserve in Canberra with my brother yesterday, where we had a chance to witness the phoenix-fast resurrection of the eucalypt forest there.

Australia's a natural tinderbox of a country: hot, and dry, and full of trees juicy with highly-flammable eucalyptus oil. Before white people came, Aboriginals used to practice natural forest management by setting small, controllable fires at appropriate times depending on the weather. But now that we've taken over the wilderness, our forests are primed to explode at any moment.

It happened in Canberra three years ago: massive bushfires scorched forested hillsides bald.
Entire neighborhoods in outlying suburbs were burned down. It was so fast and hot that wildlife were roasted alive; cooked koala carcasses fell from the trees and to lie with their limbs sticking up in the air.

There was only one known animal survivor of the bushfires: a koala now known as "Lucky", found huddled in the hollow of a tree, nearly comatose, dehydrated, with singed-off fur. It was a perfect Aussie rallying symbol and the Tidbinbilla park rangers whisked Lucky away to their animal hospital where they put her on an IV drip and treated her wounds. Lucky can now be seen rehabilitating in the Tidbinbilla reserve where she keeps to a koala's ideal schedule: lolling in a state of supreme relaxation in the fork of a tree munching eucalyptus leaves, with perhaps a midafternoon excursion to a neighboring tree branch, followed by another long rest to recover from the exertion. Her damaged tufted ears and swaths of pink healed scars where fur had been burned away makes her resemble an aging punk rocker, resting in the sun, beer-belly up.

Lucky noshes on gum leaves

Unlike animals and houses, however, eucalyptus trees thrive on fire - to restore the vitality of their soil and, in some cases, even to open their seed-pods - and their regrowth is marvellous to see. Trees that are entirely blackened, with dead scorched branches twisted in the air like witches' fingers, grow new branches directly from their trunks. You can see it here in this picture: the branches are dead, and the tree-trunk is covered with leaves.

It's hard to kill a eucalyptus tree

After we'd wandered around in the regrowing forest, we decided to take a walk in a field with a flock of emus. Here's a picture of the huge birds, peacefully at a distance:

Tranquil emus

When we got a bit closer, our dog, Fenris (an alarmingly militaristic-minded golden retriever), decided it would be a good idea to run, barking, at the emus - perhaps he got the idea from his fondness for chasing cows or kangaroos at my mum's farm. Unlike cows or kangaroos, however, the emus didn't flee. The leader of the emus - a huge, scruffy bird with demonic red eyes - puffed up his neck feathers and rushed at Fenris with the eerie speed of a velociraptor from Jurassic Park. Fenris turned and ran, tail between his legs, whereupon the emu made a few terrifying dashes at me and my brother, croaking and jabbing with its beak. My life flashed between my eyes when the emu circled around us and blocked our escape route at the top of the hill, and I started to wonder, "All this lead-up? All this travelling, wondering, and dreaming, just to go down in history as another emu fatality?"

Amazingly, my brother had the presence of mind to snap a picture, as he was running away backwards from the emu:

Evil attacking emu

I think the snap could be from a movie, you know, where they develop the film from the mysteriously dead man's camera, and the last shot is an out-of-focus monster, rushing up.

Eventually, however, the emu must have decided that we were sufficiently terrified and retreated to a safe distance, casting us a glowing red glare as we dashed back to the parking lot as fast as we could.

When we'd made it to safety, Fenris plopped down in a little pond where he floated on his belly for a while, taking some contemplative gulps of water. He had a tremendously satisfied expression on his doggy face and although I'd like to think the moral he gleaned from the episode was Never Piss Off an Attack-Emu, I suspect his real lesson was something like, Barking Loudly at Emus Yields Extremely Exciting Results.


Post a Comment

<< Home