It’s funny how fate works sometimes. Serendipity was definitely at work for the koalas of Magnetic Island, in north Queensland 20 years ago. Halfway around the world there was Dr Ali Bee with a B. Vet Med (qualified) awarded at the Royal Veterinary College in London in 1990. On the other side of the world there was a koala population on Magnetic Island, Queensland in desperate need of a champion. A study in 2012 estimated the island supports a population of around 800 koalas but this is likely to be a conservative estimate.
The island is 75% National Park with the centre of the island being very rocky, inhospitable and difficult to access. This makes koala numbers difficult to establish. Koalas were introduced to the island in the 1930s to protect them from perceived threats on the mainland, but the island has it’s own unique problems. As well as the usual threats from car strikes, dog attacks and burns, koalas this far north suffer debilitating injuries from green ant bites around their eyes and on exposed skin of their paws and noses. The formic acid from the green ants causes the koalas to experience haziness in the cornea, which progresses to a corneal ulcer. This can cloud the koalas vision and disorient them, often wandering dangerously onto roads. Bitten exposed skin becomes blistered, peels and exposes raw wounds susceptible to infection. The koalas end up in a lot of pain as a result and often become blind.
Dr Ali Bee was heading to Africa, but a twist of fate saw her end up in Australia. Early in 2003 she was holidaying on Magnetic Island and met her future husband Tim. Later that year she left her home in East Yorkshire, England to be with him. As a qualified veterinarian she was able to find work there in a veterinary clinic. Koalas were regularly brought into the hospital for attention and some required long-term care. Ali and Tim initially started caring for them in their home, but it was obvious that larger and more purpose-built facilities were necessary. The Magnetic Island Koala Hospital was created for the rescue and rehabilitation of injured, sick and orphaned koalas on the island on their own property at Horseshoe Bay. This was done with the support of the local community and generous financial supporters. The hospital expanded with the creation of a Koala Kindergarten for the care of joey koalas and their mothers in 2014. It has limited capacity and has always been full.
The whole operation is done by Ali with the help of Tim and now her daughter Izzy, who are known as The Three Bees. They rely on private donations and the occasional rare grant to operate, maintain and expand to meet the constant need. Ali cannot afford to do this full time and must leave the island to work as a vet in Townsville for a few days each week. Despite this she is always on call for koala rescues and needs to make sure the koalas in care have fresh leaf every day. Tim has just had his koala rehabilitation permit renewed and Izzy is probably the youngest koala catcher in the region, but at 16 she is still too young for her permit.
It has now been 20 years that Ali and her family have been caring for the koalas at their home. Ali modestly advises their operation is very small, but they have had 385 koalas in care over that time. They also have a pretty good success rate for joey care with 40 out of the 60 joeys coming into care being successfully hand raised and released. Ali says they currently have two joeys in their living room under the watchful eyes of Izzy, the koala whisperer. They have dreams of creating a purpose-built Koala and Wildlife Hospital and education and training centre. In 2018 they set up the Magnetic Island Koala Hospital as a registered not for profit charity to raise the funds. Their immediate goal is to start with an airconditioned hospital ward and an X-ray suite and are currently running a GoFundMe page to bring two demountable buildings over to the island. They have drawn up the plans and will be submitting them to council soon.
If you would like to donate, please get in touch on below email or directly on the GoFundMe page.
All donations are tax deductible. Please email [email protected] for the bank details.
Donate directly to their GoFundMe campaign: https://gofund.me/bb8f6751