Moving Day!

26 05 2010

Yesterday several of our babies got new homes here at Paradise Gardens!

The possums, as our newest arrivals had been in the nursery (aka the laundry room) for their first week here. But they are beginning to be able to crawl, and they are not needing as much help anymore with pooping, so we decided it was time they had a bigger enclosure as soon as possible. That way they could have some play space when they are ready to play, they could learn to climb and even hunt bugs we put it. The nursery was altogether too small for them to grow much more in. There are always a few empty enclosures around Paradise Gardens, either babies that have gotten big enough to move into a larger enclosure, animals that have been released, or animals that have been switched (for example, soon we will be able to put Manolo in with the other two Capuchin monkeys, Monty and Billy and they will all go into a larger enclosure freeing up two small ones).

There was an empty enclosure perfect for the baby possums. It had been the home of Argento the Coati when he was smaller but he had since been moved into a larger enclosure on the porch where he could run and climb more. His old cage was pretty much perfect for the opossum babies for two reasons: one, it was big enough for them to play and grow for at least another month, maybe two, but not too big for them to get lost in now while they are still so tiny, and two, its in a corner where people don’t go as often and where its a little darker and quieter. They will be able to sleep all day long and wake up and play at night, like they would in the wild!

Possum orphans new home here at Paradise Gardens

We put a box and a blanket for them to sleep in their new enclosure, a few branches and boxes for them to climb and play on, and a plate of milk and banana. They haven’t been eating on their own yet but we thought they might be ready, so we only fed them once in the morning, once in the afternoon and then left our the milk and banana overnight. As nocturnal animals we hoped they would wake up and eat up in the night, while we were asleep. In the morning Jen checked their milk and banana plate… and it was all gone! And they didn’t seem interested in the milk we usually give them first thing in the morning, so it seems they are adjusting to eating almost completely on their own. Now we will need to catch bugs so they can learn to catch and eat those.

We had two other big moves yesterday. The kittens have been too big for their cage for a week or two now, they had room to crawl and climb and jump but not to all out run. We had somewhat remedied this by getting them out into the aviary from eight to ten every morning, before guests arrived, and letting them run, chase each other, perhaps maybe someday actually catch a mouse. And we had a new enclosure in mind for them, we just had to get it ready. There were some holes in the mesh wiring that had to be repaired, and then we used black mesh fabric, saved from a destroyed trampoline, to block the kittens (and jaguarundi cub, of course) from view. This way visitors touring Paradise Gardens wont be tempted to talk to the kittens of stick their fingers in and pet them. And the kittens wont have a view of people. It not important for the two house kittens but for the jaguarundi it is essential that he get as little exposure as possible to humans. If he is too accustomed to humans he is likely to approach them in the wild expecting them to provide food or shelter, and instead be killed or injured. Humans are the biggest threat that exists for large wild cats, both because we are their main predators and because of the habitat loss incurred by human settlement and consumption.

The kittens new enclosure... only visible from inside their old enclosure and perfect for climbing, running, playing and learning to hunt!

These tarps protect the Jaguarundi and the kittens from seeing people... unless those people are over 9 feet tall!

Inside of the kittens and jaguarundi's new enclosure: plenty of room for running and climbing!

Our third rehoused animal was Arjento, our baby white-nosed coati. He had been at first in the possums new enclosure, then in another enclosure near the house but larger and with more light. But he is getting to be a great climber and is so active, he needed more space. We moved him into a larger and very tall enclosure out by the garage. It is important that he has a tall cage as he is a tree climber in the wild and he does love to climb, so now his new cage is about nine feet high.

Inside of Arjento the coatis new enclosure.

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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.