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June 21, 2013

Snuggle Time at SFWC

Plush toys mimic mom's heartbeat--provide comfort for orphaned wildlife

  • The plush toy has a "heartbeat" that soothes three orphaned raccoons. Jessica Sayre/SFWC

  • Imitating what they would do with their mother in the wild, baby opossums cling to the back of the plush toy. Jessica Sayre/SFWC

  • An older infant raccoon finds comfort in sleeping with a plush toy. Jessica Sayre/SFWC

  • Infant opossums create a sense of security by curling up close to their siblings. Jessica Sayre/SFWC

Each year, the baby nursery at South Florida Wildlife Center raises almost 2,400 orphaned birds, squirrels, opossums, and raccoons.

Scared and alone

Having just suffered the tragedy of losing their mother, many of the baby wildlife are scared when they arrive at SFWC. And, despite often being very hungry, it may take them awhile to adjust to hand-feeding, which involves the use of specialized formulas and bottles. Fortunately, SFWC staff and volunteers have a secret weapon—a plush toy with a simulated heartbeat—to help calm the babies.

Comfort of mom

The response from the baby wildlife has been nothing but positive, as the plush toy simulates physical contact with a wild family member. Within minutes of being laid on top of or next to the toy, the infant wildlife begin to suckle and knead, a natural action that baby wildlife do to help with their mother's flow of milk. Even single orphans, many of whom are raccoons, have responded extremely well to the presence of the plush toy with a "heart beat."

Small baby opossums, who would be carried in their mother's pouch in the wild, tend to crawl under the plush toy to be lulled to sleep by its beat. The larger baby opossums who would have transitioned to riding on their mother's back imitate that behavior with the toy. They climb on top and cling to its back while they sleep.

Simulating nature

Both infant opossums and infant squirrels are accustomed to living in tight quarters with their siblings, and they have taken particularly well to the placement of a fleece pouch in their incubators. Nature guides infants that are too young for their eyes to be open to instinctively crawl into the pouch. And, given the option of two pouches, a group of ten opossums has been seen snuggled together in the smaller pouch.

Ultimately each of the infants will be released back into their natural habitat. But, while they're growing up at SFWC, we make sure they are as comfortable as possible.

Visit this website for more information about what to do when you encounter baby wildlife. If you find an orphaned wild animal, do not attempt to rear the baby yourself. Call the expert staff at South Florida Wildlife Center at 954-524-4302 or 866-SOS-WILD.

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