New Arrivals! Three Baby Possums!

23 05 2010

Yesterday someone called from Boquete. “We have three baby possums for you, the mother was killed by a dog.” Three hours later a local couple arrived with a box of three tiny possums. Apparently when they are born possums are no bigger than a honey bee. These ones were much bigger than a bee, or any insect I’ve seen around here. I would say they were about the size of the tarantulas I saw between Boquete and Bocas del Toro. So about the size of my hand.

Orphaned Opossums

The three baby possums in their faux pouch

There were two girls (you can tell because they have pouches, at this stage their genitals all appear about the same) and one boy. Opossum liters range from one to 13 and we don’t know if these were the only three in the liter or if there were others. Since their mother had been mauled and carried off by a dog it is possible that there were other babies that were still in her pouch and carried off with her. Of the three we got they had only minor injuries from the dog attack. One had an eye popped out, probably from being squeezed too hard either in the jaws of the dog or underfoot (either stepped on by the dog or by the mother possum, it has been known that baby possums die from their mothers accidently treading on them). Another one needed a small stitch in her back left side, probably scratched by the dog, and the third, a boy was doing just fine. They were all very cold. We discovered that the normal body temperature for opossums was around the body temperature of human and that babies need help to maintain that temperature. Normally opossums grow until they can walk in their mothers pouches, like a kangaroo. This keeps them warm in the wild but in the case of orphan opossums raised by humans we have to resort to other methods. We wrapped them in a fleece blanket and put an electric heating pad under their box. An hour later they were warm and moving around a little, although mostly to try and borough deeper into the folds of the fleece. The veterinarian we had called came and stitched up the girl with the back wound (she only needed one stitch!). The girl with the popped out eye had to have her eye snipped off so that she could heal. Luckily she didn’t even seem to feel it.

Baby possums diet

Baby opossum gets her syringe of formula

Now they need very close attention and are fed every 2-3 hours. Once they can stand and walk on their own they will be able to start taking solid food, like mashed up egg and fruit. The boy is already trying to walk around, so he’ll be getting some mashed fruit soon! We hope once they are strong enough they can even start playing with Arjento, our baby coati.
Many people have said “Why are you rescuing an opossum? They are such pests!” They get into garbage, hiss loudly (even as babies) and are considered ugly. But the truth is opossums are pretty awesome animals. They have “semi-prehensile” tails (like monkeys and kinkajous they use their tails for climbing and holding things) and they are the largest marsupials in the western hemisphere. They are immune to the venom of pit vipers and they are eight times less likely than stray dogs to have rabies.They are omnivorous and solitary, and they are considered the “trashmen” of the natural world. They will eat almost anything… fruits, vegetables, milk, eggs, bugs and dead animals. In North America they are known for eating roadkill. They are important for cleaning up the carrion in their natural environments as well. In truth though, even if they were not extremely cool, we would take them in. Paradise Gardens is a wildlife rescue, we don’t just rescue the “cute” or “beautiful,” “rare” or “expensive” animals. We do our best to rescue all animals that are in need.
These baby opossum orphans are an illustration of why humans need to be responsible for their dogs. Dogs off their leashes loosed on the native wildlife can wreak havoc. These baby ‘possums are not the only dog-induced orphans we have here, and we also have several adult animals that survived dog attacks and came here to recover, if they can. Feral dogs are a threat not only to humans but they also threaten wildlife.