Monday, October 27, 2008

Koalas and such

Finally! I bought my plane ticket (Oslo - Singapore - Perth - Sydney - Oslo) and I got my visa to Australia. Now, if British Airways can just avoid bankruptcy for a few more weeks, I'll be happily traveling again. Hooray!

And it's a real trip, too. Ten weeks! I visited Australia briefly back in 1998, but that time I just stayed on the well-beaten backpacker trail. This time I hope to go slower and see a different kind of places, mainly in Western Australia and Tasmania. If you're a regular reader of this blog and you live somewhere interesting in Australia, this is your chance to let me sleep on your couch! #8D) I promise to behave and discuss only safe stuff like politics and religion, which I know you Ozzies couldn't care less about, while I'll specifically not say anything at all about more explosive matters, like sports and beers!

Here are some other rules I will live by in order to survive:

1. Never ever put my hand down any hole or opening whatsoever. Inside there will always be some fierce, lethally venomous creature with sharp, long teeth.

2. Never ever try to talk using Australian slang. Unless I feel like getting into a physical fight. I will only listen, not speak. Australians use weird words and expressions, and it's really easy to say something that will offend someone. But I look forward to being offended myself, in creative ways. "I wouldn't piss in your ear even if your brain was on fire!" Subtle, eh? Or "Your sense of humour is drier than a Pommie's (an Englishman's) towel!" Australians are more than happy to indicate that the English do not wash very often.

3. Never ever walk anywhere without bringing a good map. It can be days between each time I find someone to ask directions from. I'd be likely to soon end up in more trouble than a one-legged frog in a snake pit, as they say down-under.

So, this sounds promising, don't you think?

I reckon I will soon enough learn much more about this strange island/country/continent. Just keep reading this blog and I'll let you in on the secrets little by little. I'm particularly sure I'll discover fascinating details about Australian animals. They come in three categories: Venomous, strange and sheep. From among the many strange animals, today I'll tell you a few things about the koala. Or the koala bear, as the English say, because when they first saw this furry, arboreal marsupial, they just reckoned it had to be some kind of teddybear. They can't possibly have checked very carefully.

All I learned about koalas during my last visit to Australia, was that at least one of them did not at all enjoy having his back stroked tenderly, and it would signal this dislike by making sounds that I until then had only heard from freighter trains, and by slashing innocent bystanders bloody with its claws. That's all you need to know to understand that you should keep your distance from koalas. Nevertheless, here are some more facts about the physiology of koalas:

The male koala has a two-pronged penis! And that is not because it might come in handy to have a spare penis, but because the female koala has two vaginas, and female koalas are no less demanding than, say, Madonna. Food and sex is therefore all that is on a koala's mind, simply because there is not room for anything else. The brain of a koala constitutes only 0,2 percent of its body weight. This means that the brain of a typical, ten kilogram koala weighs in at only 20 grams! This ranks it somewhere between a squirrel and a cat, animals that of course are substantially smaller than a koala.

It also means that if we accept the estimate that the koala population on the planet right now is about 100 000 animals, there's only about two tons of koala brains left. The koalas may not be threatened by extinction anymore, but the outlook for any koala zombies isn't too good.

When a koala baby, a joey, is born, it is blind, has no ears and no fur. All it is capable of is to crawl into the pouch of its mother, where it finds a teat to entertain itself with for the next six months or so. During that time the joey develops eyes, ears and fur. Eventually it grows too large for the pouch.

The transition to life on the outside is a major one. Not only will the infant have to hold on for its life to its mother's back instead of being safely inside the pouch. There's no more milk to be had either. From now on the diet will be excrements from the mother! Or maybe it's not exactly excrements, but it sure comes from a section of the same factory. Somewhere inside the mother's caecum/appendix, pap, a strange substance full of bacteria is created, and as it leaves the mother's butt, it becomes food for the child. The young one must eat this stuff in order to acquire certain bacteria. You see, koalas eat eucalyptus leaves, but koalas can not themselves break down those leaves into energy. The bacterias do this job for them.

Appendicitis is not a welcome disorder among koalas, as you may imagine.

That will have to do as a foretaste of what incredible pieces of information that are to come this way. I don't know about you, but I am very much looking forward to this trip!