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The Koala Blog

Koala cuteness, conservation and news from the front line.

Joey’s horrendous tick infestation results in blood transfusion

Little Mafeking is a testament to the amazing work our vets and wildlife hospitals are able to perform. He was found under a clothes line, cold, bleeding from his face and arms and crying for his mother – he was only 9 months old. 

Upon seeing him, my first thought was dog attack and time is a big factor when dealing with dog bites.  They get infected quickly and anti-biotics need to be given as soon as possible to stave off infection.  I called ahead to Keen St Vets as it was just before closing time and I was about 30 minutes away.  Of course, they never hesitated and told me vets Ray & Kylie would be on hand when I arrived.  Once there, we got to work, shaving his head and arms trying to find the cause of all the blood – but there were no dog bites, just dozens of ticks.  A bit confused, we took some blood for testing and discovered he was chronically anaemic – his PCV (packed cell volume, the percentage of red blood cells circulating in the blood stream) was 9.  The ticks had consumed so much of his blood, there were hardly any red blood cells and because this made him anaemic, it prevented his blood from being able to clot.  The excessive blood we had seen was from minute tick wounds where the tick had detached.  We removed as many of the ticks as we could and put him on IV fluids to keep him going through the night – he was so flat and unresponsive we were unsure as to whether he would make it.

The following morning he was taken to Currumbin Wildlife Hospital where he was given a full work up.  Apart from the anaemia caused by the infestation of ticks (well over 100), there was nothing wrong with Mafeking so we discussed his options.  His chronic anaemia could only be improved by one thing – a blood transfusion.   Mafeking turned out to be the second of three koalas to receive a blood transfusion that week – something we had never done before.  Currumbin Wildlife Hospital contacted the Sanctuary and asked them to bring one of their healthy stock koalas over to be our donor.  An hour later we were slowly pumping 30ml of healthy koala blood into Mafeking’s arm.

The donor koala, after supplying his beautiful blood, was taken out of rotation at the sanctuary for a few days (he was one of the many koalas used for photographs with Sanctuary visitors) which again shows how dedicated the Currumbin staff are and makes me appreciate their efforts all the more.

Within 6 hours of the transfusion, Mafeking was reformed into a normal 9 month old joey.  From the flat, unresponsive boy we had found the previous afternoon, he was eating happily and soon after, jumping between his perches and play fighting with his foster sister Brooklet.

A week later he was taken back for a follow up consultation where he blew the staff at Currumbin all away.  Could this be the same limp koala that had been in 7 days before?  His PCV had risen to 21 and currently stands at 28 which is a perfectly normal level.  He was feisty and had full use of his teeth and claws.

Mafeking has went from strength to strength since his first hiccup coming into care and the only reminders were the areas where he was shaved on that first afternoon, particularly his little face. In preparation for being released back to the wild Mafeking was placed in our Koala Kindy with another joey, Triumph, where they had 54 trees to range through and build their climbing skills.

Unfortunately, rather than gaining weight, he in fact lost it and is now back in care and being monitored by our vets. We’re still hopeful  the end result will be successful release, but with koalas there is no guarantee. We just keep all our digits crossed!

Susannah – Care Coordinator

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