Playing Possum

 

by

 

Doreen Chamberlain

 

The return of the Brushtail Possums to my own semi suburban garden has been a great thrill and, when I looked out on the moon streaked lawn, it seemed that a cat was hunched over some bread the birds had left.   It sat up on it’s haunches to glare and I saw that it was no cat.   The two eyes were luminous and the two tiny paws were arrested in conveying food to the mouth.   Upright pointed ears emphasised the alarm it felt and the near black tail was longer than that of any cat of my acquaintance.

 

It was seven years since the freeloaders disappeared.   Later I learned of the neighbour who accused them of eating his growing peas and I knew why I was in mourning.

 

Those who regard possums as vermin need reminding they are a protected species.   There is a tendency to nurture wildlife which is threatened but that discovery is not made overnight and any species may quickly become extinct through rampant infection or a disappearing habitat.   Unlike some marsupials, the possum, the koala and many breeds of bird will not retreat to the outback as they are dependent on ‘trees.   They can only survive with humanity as an ally.

 

Members of the First Fleet were confounded by the unique creature which inhabited Australian trees.   Their astonishment over the possum was recorded in detail and relayed to England were scientists of the time scoffed at the possibility of large gliding rodents.   Not until stuffed examples arrived did they believe their existence.

 

Overseas visitors are, at last, discovering that Australia has possums and this will probably ensure their future.   The Europeans, who have long loved their squirrels, wonder why the possum is frequently unlisted in our wildlife promotions and documentaries and the Japanese have little knowledge of their existence.

 

In a few caravan parks, the nomads take their torches out at night for a sighting in the trees and squeal in mock terror when possums chase each other over the caravan roofs.   Possums have even been known to fall through the ventilator and create panic within!   Many years ago, one enterprising park manager in the Flinders Ranges erected a notice board by the road advising of the evenings entertainment, and now, along the Murray, there are indications that the commercial value of possums is not in their skins, but in the delight they create for the tourists.

 

It has been an amazement to find their eating habits very selective and, at my outside supper table, peas and vegetable peelings are ignored.   They like fruit, of course, favouring apples and pears cut into manageable pieces.   Porridge oats, bread and the more expensive cereals, like “Nutri-grain®”, also provide a feast.

 

Encouraging the survival of possums is an infinitesimal contribution to conservation with none of the drama of saving a whale, fighting off bull-dozers which attack our rain-forests or screaming to preserve our coast-line.   It could get exciting though and it surely will if that neighbour who grows peas decides to exterminate them again!

 

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Bennett's Wallaby
Juvenile NT Brushtail Possum
Swamp Wallaby
Golden Brushtail Possum
Red Kangaroos
Yellow-footed Rock-wallabies
Baby Squirrel Glider
Sugar Glider
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