Capture and Release

by Kate Guenther    … as written for the Spring 2013 Newsletter

possumDriving home on a May evening from work in 2012, I saw a roadkill opossum. As usual, I stopped to check if it was a mom with babies. Luckily, there was an exit lane between me and the interstate traffic as I walked, but I still pressed myself up against the guardrail, eyes on my subject, and walked quickly toward the opossum. About thirty feet from my goal, I heard a low growl at my feet. I froze and looked down. There, in the shadows of the guardrail, a baby woodchuck eyed my shoe with suspicion and growled menacingly. I retreated a few steps and then saw there were actually three young woodchuck noses poking out from the grassy edge. I took a wide circle around them and vigorously warned them of the dangers of hanging out by the highway.

A few steps further and I now could see the four baby opossums standing on their (dead) mom. I whisked up mom and babies, looked around the area for other babies who had wandered off, and proceeded to deliver the whole pile of opossums back to the center. The baby opossums were guests of the Wildlife Center for about a month until they were ready to go out and take on the big world.

On Release Day, I found a safe place in the general area where they had been initially rescued, but away from the highway. It was wide-open countryside with farm fields, hedgerows, streams, and woods– good edge habitat for four-up-and-coming opossums. I hiked them down the dirt road, set down the carrier and opened the door. Three waddled out, each doing their own thing and going their own ways, in no big hurry. I bent over to see what #4 was up to and it was plastered up against the back of the carrier as if terrified. It hissed at me–expressing that  had no intent to come out. I gently pulled the towel out the door, carrying the last opossum slowly forward toward the door. As it came out the door, I could see it and it lay rigidly on its side, mouth open, eyes glazed over–dead!

“Oh come on now, this is no time to play dead! You gotta get out there with your brothers and sisters!” (who, by the way, were all nearby munching grass and leaves, watching the show). I decided to go read a book in my car for 10 minutes to give the procrastinator time to overcome its fear. When I returned, it had awakened and had ventured a few steps off the towel. I lifted my carrier away, and the last opossum turned and gave me one last parting hiss, then waddled off down the dirt lane to its future.

Editor Sophia Cliffe’s Note:  Kate is the HW Secretary, webmaster, and Acting Outreach Chairperson.  She has also taught sessions of the MN Basic Training course, and is actively involved in volunteer stream monitoring. She is the Front Desk Coordinator at the Virginia Wildlife Center and involved in too many projects to list in this small space.

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