Spring is the time for wildlife mothers

By Page H. Gifford

Spring is the time of year when we will see many species of wildlife giving birth to everything from fawns to baby rabbits (kits), to foxes (kits or pups), birds, and bear cubs. One good rule to follow at this time of year is if you see any unattended babies, leave them where they are and do not touch them or remove them. Most likely the mother is off gathering food and will return.

However, some animals travel with their babies, like opossums. Recently at the Wildlife Center of Virginia an injured opossum was admitted, and during its exam, it was discovered that she suffered lacerations as well as fractured ribs, sternum, and collarbone and that she also was carrying seven babies in her pouch.

 Once it was determined that all the few-week-old young, called joeys, were clinically healthy, the mother opossum was provided with supportive care, including pain medication and fluids.

The opossum’s sutures were removed on April 18, and the face and shoulder wounds both appeared healthy. Repeat radiographs taken on April 23 showed that the multiple fractures are also healing well.

 “The joeys have been checked for signs of life weekly but are otherwise not handled by staff – it is best to let wildlife moms care for their babies without human interference unless necessary,” said Connor Gillespie, community outreach coordinator. The opossum will continue to be closely monitored by staff, with the hope of releasing her back to the wild before her babies leave the pouch.

Virginia opossums are dedicated mothers who care for their young in various stages. Opossums breed two to three times a year between February and September, and litters can contain up to 13 joeys, each of which is about the size of a honeybee. After about two and a half months, the joeys will emerge from their mother’s pouch and ride on her back as they begin to explore the outside world. After a few months of learning how to be an opossum with mom, the joeys are ready to start their independent lives.

     Gillespie and other staff remind everyone to help opossums, like this mom, by slowing down when driving, especially between dusk and dawn, as opossums are most active at night. Never litter near roadways; even biodegradable materials such as banana peels and apple cores will attract critters such as opossums searching for their next meal. If you come across a young opossum you believe may need help, visit https://wildlifecenter.org/help-advice/healthy-young-wildlife/if-you-find-baby-opossum.

Another opossum getting a lot of attention is a juvenile opossum they admitted with a fractured leg.

 “It has become very popular on social media and we have some great photos of it. While we care about all of the animals that come through our doors, one that recently came in has captured the heart of our team,” said Gillespie.

This juvenile opossum came in after her mother was killed by a dog.

“At her age, she was likely clinging to her mother’s back at the time of the attack. We don’t know exactly how the incident occurred, but a kind rescuer found her trying to crawl away in the neighboring yard and brought her to our hospital.”

Radiographs showed that the opossum’s tiny left femur had been fractured.

“Bones this small can be difficult to repair, but the vet team immediately got to work. Using a specialized pin and sutures, they were able to stabilize the fracture and give her a fighting chance,” he said. “She’s already making so much progress and has started weight-bearing on the leg again for the first time.”

He added that in many cases, domestic animal attacks on wildlife are unintentional and that owners feel just as bad about the incident, but it’s important to remember that your yard is a home to wildlife too. Keeping an eye on your pets and scanning your yard for wildlife before letting them out is a great way to prevent situations like this from happening. 

If you do find a wild animal that was caught by a domestic animal, make sure to call a wildlife rehabilitator. Even if they don’t seem injured, they may still need help. Contact  https://rockfishwildlifesanctuary.org/ or the  https://wildlifecenter.org.

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