Marsupials in the United States

 

by

Bob Anderson
Director, Fur and Feathers Rescue and Rehabilitation Inc.
Los Alamos, New Mexico 87544

My wife Cathy and I have been rehabilitating wild animals for over twenty years in New Mexico. At one time or another we have cared for almost every mammal species in the United States. We also operate a small sanctuary where we keep non- releasable animals to use in children’s education programs. 

About 10 years ago, we became interested in the Australian marsupials. We began visiting Australia to learn about and interact with these incredible animals. We have now made several trips and met many wonderful carers. A few years ago, I got my first Wallaby as a Christmas present from my wife. Since then we have had a couple of Joeys and brought in a few new wallabies through our rescue activities. 

We have been told by the Federal Wildlife agencies that macropods cannot survive in the wild in this country due to nutrition issues, so their only use is in the pet industry. This fact greatly irritates many of my Australian friends. In all honesty, it somewhat irritates me, especially after seeing these creatures roam wild in their native country. We are members of several animal organizations in Australia and follow the many efforts being made to protect these animals. We have witnessed the plight of these animals in two very different cultures and thought the Marsupial Society members might enjoy hearing some of our observations. 

In Australia, macropods are plentiful and even considered pests by many. They are exploited in many different ways, usually for some financial gain. There is a lot of effort on the part of animal organizations to get legislation to protect and to educate people about the value of these resources. This takes place on a national basis and is directed toward 10’s of thousands of animals. 

In the States, macropods are imported exotic pets, fairly rare, and very expensive ($800 - $1000 US each). Very few people understand these animals, their needs or their habitats. These animals are also exploited, but usually on an individual basis. The government sees these creatures as imported exotics and takes little or no interest in their protection. The animal organizations in the US get involved, but usually to only save one or two animals being mistreated. e.g. animals on display at a shopping center housed in a small wire cage. 

Every so often, a Wallaby or a roo will be rescued from cruel situations and need a refuge.  In Australia, we have found hundreds of carers. Every one of them knows how to care for these animals. Here in the states I only know of two other non profit organizations that take in and know how to care for these animals. What often happens, the rescued animals get returned to the original importers and the animal’s ordeal begins again.

Our original goal in getting involved with these animals was to provide a sanctuary for any macropod in need*. This was a difficult task because we had to learn about every species, which species could live together, what each animal required for climate control, how to spot and treat marsupial diseases, what each animal can and cannot eat, how much room do they need etc. Thank god for the carers in Australia who invited us in to learn all these things. 

One problem we have encountered is lack of understanding concerning the culture difference between the US and Australia. Our first female Bennetts Wallaby (Midget) gave birth to a Joey shortly after joining our mob. This was our first Joey. We had read and studied Joey rearing, but we still had lots of questions. When Joey first started leaving the pouch, we pulled it away from mom to hand raise it. We contacted several of our carer buddies in Australia and immediately got slammed by almost everyone for pulling the Joey.  Some got so mad at us; they refused to give us any information and totally stopped corresponding with us. 

I believe that every rehabber (carer) in the world has the same goal: “get the animal back into the wild where it belongs”. This is certainly our mission. What we as an international society must understand is that everyone has some special circumstances they must occasionally face. Our pulling a Joey is unacceptable to many carers in Australia. I would ask them to consider what they might do if they suddenly found themselves caring for an American skunk. It cannot, by law, ever be released in Australia, and it cannot, by law, be exported. Would you raise it to be friendly to avoid being sprayed every time you got near it, would you kill it, or would you do as we do everyday at our facility, keep it wild and get it back into the wild?   Perhaps, instead of killing it, you decided to remove its scent glands so it could be a house pet. (They can make very nice pets and can live long and happy lives). 

Here in the US that would be considered extreme cruelty. In Australia, it might be the best solution. My Joey only had one destiny, live in the sanctuary and visit with the kids. Had we not pulled Joey, he would have spent his entire life running away and being afraid of his surroundings, just like Midget. 

The purpose of this discussion is to simply point out that as people continue the exploitation of animals throughout the world, we as animal protectors must unite and help where we can and when ever we can. Animal caregivers by nature are very passionate people and have very strong beliefs. I believe that sharing experiences and our special circumstances across the globe can only strengthen our resolve. 

* We are currently thinking about opening a non profit National Marsupial Center here in the states to serve as an internationally supported sanctuary and information center.

Any comments are welcome
krittergitters@ msn.com 

 
 
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Swamp Wallaby
Golden Brushtail Possum
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