A rehabber’s work never seems to end; there are always animals to clean or babies to feed & tend to, and sick or injured patients to care for. The list is endless! So when the opportunity arose for a fun night out we jumped on the chance. Myself, my husband Chuck, our interns Sigrid & Julian, the other rehabber, Auriel, and Andrea, a volunteer, headed out to a local tourist attraction to enjoy being “scared to death” at their Halloween haunted house & haunted gardens. The event was jam packed with adults and kids of all ages. We went through the haunted attractions twice! The first time we jumped out of our skin by the actors successfully frightening us, & the second time laughing our way through.
Standing by the entrance, my husband noticed an opossum toddling nearby. Always anxious to observe animals in their natural habitats we quietly made our way towards him. He disappeared into the bushes and I figured that was the last we’d see of him that night. I figured wrong! A minute or so later, people sitting and eating at the nearby picnic tables were surprised to see a full grown opossum right under their feet. It always makes me uncomfortable to see a wild animal that seems to have no fear of people. I decided to do a little test to see if he would take food from me. I held a muffin leftover from dinner out and to my dismay the little possum took it from my hand. Not proper behavior for a “wild animal”. He then waddled over by the gift shop and that’s where it all got crazy. People started screaming as if a wild panther was walking amongst them. Someone yelled something about a giant rat. (a common misconception due to the appearance of their tails. Opossums are not rodents, but marsupials, just like kangaroos). Another man passed a remark about how tasty opossums are. A staff person was unsuccessfully trying to calm the situation as the little guy became more terrified and almost ran into the haunted house! Now adults and kids were screaming and I heard Andrea yelling “Donna, just grab him!”
I caught him by the tail and held on so he could not run away. I kept his feet on the ground since it is very uncomfortable to dangle an adult opossum from his tail. He tried to get free but never once tried to turn and bite me. I asked the staff person to get me a box to put him in as the crowd watched, some intrigued, some terrified, some probably thinking it was part of the show. Once safely in the box the staff person said they would release it out back. I informed her that I was a wildlife rehabber and that this animal seemed too tame to be let go and that I worried for his safety. She agreed and admitted that he had chased after them a couple of days ago to try to get their soda! I brought him back to my house that night and set him up in one of my cats carriers where he slept on his back with all 4 feet in the air-totally comfortable. I feel that he may have been raised as a pet and then released when he reached adulthood. Even when “tame”, wild animals never make good pets, they are messy, can carry parasites, cannot be trained, and are unpredictable.
We named the little guy “Spooky” since he came to us at a Halloween event, and he resides happily at the Center where he has a large inside enclosure and an outdoor play area. He enjoys a varied diet and loves to sleep in his hanging basket. Spooky will be a wonderful education ambassador. His main message will be that you should never feed wildlife because they lose their fear of people and because it can cause many other problems for people and wildlife as well. While the staff and volunteers at the center all love Spooky, it still makes me sad to think that he lost his chance at being wild because well meaning people decided to feed/habituate him.
Next time you visit the Center look for Spooky in his outside play area!
One of the most rewarding aspects of our job as rehabbers is providing enrichment for our patients and our permanent residents.
Environmental or behavioral enrichment is achieved by adding to a captive animal’s environment or by modifying that environment to stimulate behaviors resembling those of a healthy wild animal. Enrichment is intended to encourage behaviors that are appropriate for the species, and that satisfy an animal’s physical and psychological needs.
Here are some of the things we do to enrich the lives of our animals. Sulcata tortoises are allowed out of their enclosures to forage on grasses, and some days we “bury” the bases of heads of romaine lettuce so they appear to be growing out of the ground. The big tortoises love to eat romaine this way.
Birds and squirrels are treated to their enclosures decorated with fresh browse (foliage) each day. They especially love browse that has edible berries or acorns attached. Squirrels are also given pans of dirt to dig & hide nuts in.
The raccoons are kept busy exploring the contents of “treat tubes” – paper towel cardboard rolls stuffed with treats like nuts and superworms.
The raccoons and opossums both enjoy finding hay nests that we make for them (complete with raw eggs) and placed in their enclosures.
The vultures love to rip things up so we give them both stuffed and rubber squeaky toys for this job. Our resident parrots also love rubber squeaky toys.
On “hay day” many of the birds & mammals are given a pile of timothy hay so they can practice their nest building skills.
When time allows we may also make food trees for the animals – food items are impaled on branches so the animal can forage more naturally. Even are little mice are given wheels to run in- hide houses, nesting materials and fresh treats daily.
How can you help provide enrichment for our animals? Donate some of the items we use for this important endeavor.
Here are some things we need:
– Bags of Timothy hay
– Acorns (from trees not sprayed with chemicals)
– Clean stuffed toys
– Rubber squeaky toys
– Bunny chew sticks
– Baby toys (like plastic keys, etc)
– 4-6 pumpkins (whole) for raccoons to tear up
– Cat/dog toys
– Unsalted peanuts in the shell
Thanks to all!