They're cuddly like soft toys. And they're probably the gentlest creatures on Earth. Until they move their furry heads, it's hard to tell that they're for real. Endearing, delightful, and adorable - that's how I would describe Koala bears.
On a work visit to Australia last year, I got on a bus one Saturday morning and headed to the Ballarat Wildlife Park, which is about an hours' drive from Melbourne city. When our group of about fifteen reached the park, we were greeted by a bunch of gluttonous but adorable Kangaroos who wanted to be fed treats every step of the way. The tour guide first took us to an enclosure where Charles, the Koala bear, would be brought to meet us. Everyone waited with bated breath. When Charles finally arrived, he lit up the room in an instant. There were smiles all around, everyone was beaming. Any creature that can make so many people smile in a split second has GOT to be special!
Because Koalas are such sensitive creatures, their keepers hold them in their arms along with a branch from a eucalyptus tree - the leaves comfort the Koala and make it feel closer home. Koalas get stressed very easily, which is why it's so important for them to live in their own habitat away from human activity. Sadly, their habitat is steadily shrinking and they're finding it very hard to keep up with our world.
Charles clung on to his keeper Mike's shoulders with his front paws, like a little baby, his head mostly turned sideways. Every few seconds, he would nibble on the eucalyptus leaves... chew on them for like three seconds... and then stop chewing and stare into space. And then again... nibble nibble... chew chew... stare into space.
Charles' movements were so gentle. There was nothing harsh about him. No wonder our hearts melted the instant we saw him. I believe that creatures as gentle as Koalas, and even Dolphins, are giving our planet a lot of "love" energy. They open our hearts instantly - it's hard for a person not to feel a wave of compassion wash over them when they see a Koala.
Mike gave a short speech about Koala "bears", and how there's really no "bear" in them, so goodness knows why they came to be called bears! An interesting thing about them is that their heads are very sensitive, and we were advised to touch Charles only on his back, and not at the top of his head.
By the time Mike was two sentences into his speech, everyone in the group was vying for a picture with Charles. Cameras were being handed across the room. One by one, each of us "posed" along with Charles, standing as close to him as was possible without him getting anxious. For a split second, each beaming visitor being photographed with Charles prayed to goodness that Charles wouldn't turn his head the other way until the picture was clicked. I wasn't so lucky the first time - Charles looked away for my first picture, and then the second or third time he was kind enough to look towards the camera. (Swapna had told me not to return to India without a picture of me with a Koala, so I pleaded with Charles and he graciously relented!)
I came out of there rejuvenated like never before. Charles had worked his magic on me. As a matter of fact, everyone in the group looked drunk on happiness. Each of us had come from a different part of the world - from Russia, Australia, India, the US, the UK, and South Korea - but that afternoon, all our smiles looked just the same.