The river winding through Brisbane is tidal, meaning bull sharks lurk beneath your boat as you pass under lighted bridges and Queensland culture. Along the way, half-naked rock-climbers scale the Kangaroo Cliffs, skinny cyclists speed by on the right (wrong) side of the road, and groups of well-tanned runners thunder through the streets in herds, which call up images of America’s buffalo. When I heard about Australia’s dangerous wilderness, this was not what I anticipated. Still, though Brisbane is rife with its own velocity, the real danger here is about twenty minutes outside the city in a tiny animal sanctuary. There are pythons and crocodiles, dingos and Tasmanian devils, but even these pale in comparison to the real threat, which hides in Eucalyptus trees and appears cuddly and lovable until you know their little secret, which my transport person (I’ll withhold her name for fear of retaliation from the marsupial army) revealed to me while on our way to the “Sanctuary.”
You ready for this? Almost 90% of Koalas have Chlamydia, which interestingly, also happens to be the most commonly reported STI in young people in Australia – kinda makes you wonder what the hell is going on out here on Saturday nights.
Since it’s transmitted sexually, you’d probably think there wouldn’t be too many incidents of humans suffering from the passage of this disease. After all, how much infidelity can there be when you have to shimmy up a tree and part the fur just to get at the little suckers. However, you’d be wrong.
This from Wikipedia: Koalas are struck by a different strain of the disease from that which affects humans – although it seems humans can catch the koala version through exposure to an infected animal’s urine.
Let that sink in.
…humans can catch the koala version through exposure to an infected animal’s urine.
Here’s the best part. When you arrive at the sanctuary, there’s an almost un-refusable offer. For $15, you can hold one of these cute little furballs in your hand, have it wrap its tiny claws around your shoulder, and you’ll get one of those photos where social media types will spout hearts and envy ’til you tear up with pride. $15 is cheaper than crack or cocaine or any other dopamine strike and there’s just no way you’re gonna say “no” to an opportunity for a lifetime of memories and joy.
I am now inside the sanctuary. I have passed all of the other animals and I’m striding slowly toward the Chlamydia, I mean Koala cage. To my horror, there is no cage. These animals are free to roam, to pee more recklessly than a drunk man in Hollywood, to relieve themselves upon small children’s shoulders and heads, to turn, aim, and fire at any curious onlooker. Worse yet, there is a line of ticket holders who are giddy with anticipation as they await an opportunity to have the koala-keeper place one of these furry tramps upon their shoulder.
Around the site, I’ve seen oodles of hand-cleansing dispensers and I’ve almost come to tears watching these folks walk right by them after the photo shoot. Imagine hugging Keith Richards and not showering afterward and I think you’re getting close. And now I pause, click the zoom on my camera, snap a few photos from outside urinating range, and get on my way. I don’t want to have that story. I can’t imagine a life where conversations about my sexual history begin with, “Well there was this Koala, see….”
As I leave, I pass through the gift shop. It is pretty clear to me there’s a massive market for Koala condoms and someone should be making a fortune. Instead, there are photos of these furry creatures and they are smiling. When I look closer, it’s the same koala in every picture. I think he’s in that marsupial minority. He’s one of the un-infected, climbing into the eucalyptus sack with the arrogance of a sexual soothsayer. He knows the lady koalas see him as prime fodder and his picturesque smile suggests a satisfaction only really good-looking people can understand. He is Neo, the Highlander, a veritable Gold Coast Superman. I exit without making a purchase. My transport person is waiting for me in the parking lot. She is smiling. I open the door and get in.
“Well?” she says.
“Get me to the clinic,” I respond. “And step on it!”