How many times have you driven past an injured or dead wild animal? Fairly frequently would be my guess.
How do you know they are dead? Sometimes it’s obvious … or is it?
Opossums, the only North American marsupials, are often the victims of car strikes. They are slow and low to the ground, they can only see 14 to 16 inches in front of them. They are nature’s garbage disposals and often clean up along the road.
However, this time of year the females may be carrying as many as 12 babies in their pouch. So, as those babies grow the pouch can become pretty heavy.
Early each spring the vast majority of the animals we take in are orphaned. Infant opossums are most often found along the road. However, it’s not always cars: dogs, coyotes, traps, road trash all contribute to the death of the mothers.
You only know of these babies if you are one of the many kind-hearted people who stop to see if the mother is dead and if she has babies. This is what we refer to as "pouch diving."
Sometimes you will see the orphans clinging to the mother’s fur but all too often they are hiding in the only safe place they know: the pouch.
Only by gently reaching inside the pouch can you discover any live babies. Those of us who do this regularly carry a small insulated bag with instant hand warmers, thin gloves and a soft cloth. This will allow us the time to get them the help they need and into an incubator.
If the mother is alive we simply place her in the car and bring her to the new wildlife center in Hillsborough. There, both she and the babies can be treated.
As always, it requires care and common sense to touch any wild creature so call for help whenever needed.
Why do this?
The reasons are many: compassion, appreciation for their value, to protect the species and common kindness. As many of you have realized, our urban wildlife is fast disappearing due to habitat loss, lawn toxins, predation, cars, lack of natural foods and human behavior. We all play part in our natural balance, and that includes the vastly misunderstood opossum.
Linda Ostrand is the director of the newly established Wildlife Center on Old N.C. 10 in Hillsborough. Call 919-428-0896 for help.