Taronga gives tiny possum orphans a second chance
Sunday 28th August 2011
Taronga gives tiny possum orphans a second chance

Two orphaned Ring-tail Possums are being given a second chance at life, receiving round-the-clock care from a Taronga Zoo Elephant Keeper.

Zoo Keeper, Bobby-Jo Clow, normally spends her days caring for some of Taronga’s largest animals in the Asian Elephant herd, but she is also now the surrogate mother of the two tiny possums which each weigh less than 60 grams.

The minute female possums were found in Mosman, one in its dead mother’s pouch and the other infant lying nearby. Without a good Samaritan passing by and checking the marsupial’s pouch, the youngsters would not have survived.

After an initial medical examination at Taronga Zoo’s Wildlife Hospital the orphans were placed in the care of Zoo keeper Bobby-Jo Clow. Being so young they would be totally reliant on their possum mother, so Bobby-Jo took on the role of caring for their every need.

After being in Bobby-Jo's care for a few days she noticed that one of the joey's wrists had begun to swell. Taronga's vets believe that the joey may have sustained the injury when the mother died. The Wildlife Hospital administered a tiny splint to help the possum's fractured wrist heal.

“It is huge a difference looking after such small animals. Everything about elephants is big, even when they’re born they weigh around 100 kilos, so to be looking after two tiny possums which literally fit into the palm of my hand brings on a whole new set of zoo keeping skills, “ said Bobby-Jo.

Ring-tail Possum
Bobby-Jo tends to the infants 24 hours a day, bringing them to work at the Taronga Elephant Barn in specially knitted possum pockets which replicate their mother’s pouch to keep them warm and secure.

All the sleepless nights waiting for the elephant calves to be born at Taronga has been good practice for Bobby-Jo since she is feeding the Ring-tail Possums a specialised milk supplement six times a day and has to tend to them throughout the night.

“I feed them every four hours, so it does include getting up in the middle of the night, you have to change your routine to suits their needs. I’ve actually named them Swiss and Miss because that is the name of the hot chocolate I normally have at 10:00am, my morning tea break. Now I am too busy feeding the little possums to be able to have my hot drink, so looking after these gorgeous little things have become my mid-morning treat instead!”

“They’re such a little team, all the elephant keepers ask everyday how ‘Swissmiss’ are doing!”, said Bobby-Jo.

“I am just happy that someone took the time to check the dead mother’s pouch and bring them to the Zoo’s Wildlife Hospital. So many native animals have infants in their pouches at the moment and we all need to be aware to keep our dogs and cats inside at night and drive carefully on the roads.”

“Imagine if Swiss and Miss hadn’t of made it. They’re just adorable but also very vulnerable at such a young age,” said Bobby Jo.

Australian native animals face difficulties securing food and a home range in our increasingly urbanised society.  Over 1500 injured and orphaned animals were cared for by the wildlife hospitals at Taronga and Taronga Western Plains Zoos last year. Many Zoo Keepers volunteer to hand-raise animals which would not have survived otherwise.

The veterinary support at Taronga is part of the zoo’s on-going commitment to conservation of wildlife locally and internationally. It’s important for the public to be aware that there is more wildlife around during the warmer months and to seek advice from a wildlife centre if they find an injured or orphaned animal.