July 5, 2011
Raising a Pouch Full of Opossums
Cape Wildlife Center is raising 18 orphaned opposums who no longer have their mother's pouch to call home
by Heather Fone
Crossing the road is always a hazard for wild animals. For a female Virginia opossum (North America’s only marsupial), crossing a road in spring or early summer is particularly dangerous, because she is more than likely carrying her babies with her.
This year, 18 orphaned opossums ended up being cared for by staff and volunteers in our nursery at Cape Wildlife Center on Cape Cod, Mass. We house siblings together in aquariums, and once they are big enough, we will move them to an outside enclosure. We keep them there until they are old enough to be released back into the wild.
See an opossum by the road? Consider stopping
We have all driven past the sad sight of animals killed alongside a road. But if you see an opossum on the side of the road, please consider stopping. If the opossum is female, she may have newborn joeys or slightly older juveniles in her pouch. Young opossums stay in their mother's pouch for at least 70 days. If their mother is injured or killed, they won't venture outside or make themselves visible until they get hungry.
Use these tips if you find any wild animal you suspect might be injured or orphaned. As a general rule, if an opossum found alone is over 7 inches long (not including the tail), he’s old enough to be on his own; if less than 7 inches long (not including the tail), he is an orphan, and you should contact a licensed wildlife rehabilitator or wildlife center.
Marsupial family makes it back to the wild
About a month ago, a local resident brought us an injured female opossum who had been hit by a car. The little opossum still had five tiny joeys still inside her pouch. Our veterinarian, Dr. Roberto Aguilar, examined her and happily reported that the mother opossum had a nasty gash on her long nose, but was otherwise healthy.
We put the family in a crate in one of the animal wards and looked after them until the joeys were out of her pouch and walking around on their own. Then, we moved the little family to a pre-release enclosure to acclimate to the weather. Finally, we released the family back to the area where they were found—a very happy moment for all of us here at the Cape Wildlife Center.
Heather Fone cares for wildlife as an Animal Care Technician at the Cape Wildlife Center in Barnstable, Mass.