One of Dr Jane Goodall’s most empowering messages is around the role each of us plays, as individuals, in creating a kinder, sustainable planet. Dr Jane has been a huge part of my life and I feel very privileged to have spent time close with her. She has become the voice in my head and her messages resound strongly with me and have become my guiding principles.
I suppose also there is a natural alignment in our values and our views of the world around us.
So when our family was faced with a baby possum in strife on a very hot day, there is no question about our actions, to do what we can, to assist and attend and to then figure out the best plan forward to all concerned.
Our cherished golden retriever, Gracie who we love immensely, also has a predatory instinct that she will sometimes exercise on our 3 acre property, much to our distress. Yesterday, Gracie caught a distressed juvenile ringtail possum suffering from the scorching heat. Wildlife will often come down from the trees during the heat of the day for water which makes them vulnerable to attack. As dehydration sets in they are also less able to swiftly escape. So this tragedy unfolded in our garden and fortunately my daughter Megan saw the scene unfolding through a window and was promptly on the ground. She pulled out the “no fail tool kit” to distract Gracie from prey and her plan worked. She was able to rescue this little mite from the clutches of her predator’s jaws. Baby “Ringo” was a juvenile “back rider” which means that while he was still mature and gaining independence, he still needed his mumma. We had a dilemma, one that we have found ourselves in many times over the years. The conflict between separating a mother from her offspring vs ensuring survival of the offspring.
Our plan forward was to care for him indoors and assess his physical condition. As a veterinarian (albeit not a wildlife vet), I established that there were no serious injuries although he was suffering mild shock and dehydration. Many texts were exchanged with our beautiful wildlife nurse and friend, Leila to provide further guidance. Ringo received some fluids under his skin and was quietly settled in a small, dark pouch in a safe cage indoors. Megan checked on him regularly and spent some time with him nestled in her top so that he could feel the warmth of another body.
As sundown approached we knew this little fella had a good chance of surviving his ordeal, but we needed to get him back to Mumma Poss as soon as poss, which was easier said than done.
We have 3 acres of magnificent garden and trees, and knowing where to start looking for a wee little ringtail possum was daunting. A quick call to our dear friends Tom & Bron, who help us in the garden and have a deep understanding of wildlife, established that the most likely area was our “fairy garden” (aptly named as this is where the girls believed the fairies danced, which of course they do, especially on a full moon. It is a very special, magical almost spiritual part of our garden). Tom had seen a ringtail possum nest in the tree there and was very confident.
Ignited with hope, we went out after dark with torches to find our Mumma Possum. It was a bit like finding a needle in a hay stack. With the mozzies setting in on us for their evening feast, we shone our torches in to the trees with no luck. After a while we came back indoors, very disheartened. By now Ringo was gaining strength and Megan’s faith in this exercise did not waiver. In the meantime, I was called out to attend a dying dog at home, and I suppose an hour passed until my return.
Our second search started soon after 10pm and guess what!! We spotted Mumma Poss high in a tree in our fairy garden. My very reliable iphone torch illuminated a furry brown and white patch nestled between some leaves of a rather spindly tree. What are the chances!! This was her back! Euphoric with our discovery Megan popped Ringo as high as we could in a safe spot in the fork of the tree and watched him scurry up the branches and on to his Mumma’s back. They then graciously and stealthily made their retreat beyond our torch beams and we cried! There really are no words to describe our feelings in that moment, but the realisation that we had reunited a mother and her offspring against the odds was totally amazing and wonderful!
Had we not found Mumma Possum, we were faced with a true dilemma. To leave him, vulnerable, in the tree in the dark but in the hope that Mumma would find him, or continue with the “rescuing” process and human intervention which clearly creates a new set of issues around adjustment, feeding, time, resources, convenience and chances. This is the debate and the dilemma.
Investing time and resources in to wildlife rehabilitation is a controversial topic. A huge amount of time is given to caring for thousands of injured individual wildlife by hundreds of volunteers across the country, who usually self-fund their supplies and give their time on top of a day job. Survival rates of rehabilitated wildlife returned to their natural environment are poorly understood, and some argue that we do more harm than good in this process and perhaps we would be better to invest instread in conservation initiatives to support wildlife populations. After all, possums are regarded as a pest in some areas, and yet we throw our heart in to saving them in others. Who knows the answer to this complex dilemma? Certainly not me. What I do know for sure is that I simply cannot turn my back and my heart on a tiny baby possum in need. So caring for a helpless individual that crosses our path is what we will do, and while most of my work day to day is around companion pets, we do from time to time get involved in wildlife scenarios and we will respond, assess and create a best plan forward with the right personnel involved.
Today we’ve put shallow water dishes as high as possible and are keeping Gracie under guard.
Well done to Megan Kennedy for being you and dropping everything to assist; and to Leila from Wildlife Nurse for your advice and support.
Folks, remember on hot days to put out shallow dishes of water and keep pets indoors!
Note: The care of sick, injured and orphaned wildlife must be referred to an authorised wildlife shelter or foster carer, wildlife rehabilitation organisation or veterinarian. SOURCE: wildlife.vic.gov.au. See below for useful links on responding to wildlife in need.
Resource sheet for caring for wildlife during heat: https://www.wildlife.vic.gov.au/wildlife-emergencies/heat-stress-in-wildlife2
PHOTO CREDIT for the photo of Hope, Leila & Gracie: Emma Catherine Studios