How a Mother's Love Kept The Earth's Oldest Surviving Mammal Babies Alive - by Loreta Frankonyte.

It’s a very tough world out there for wild animals, especially where there is modern civilization.

This is why we were called on our first opossum family rescue. 

An opossum mom was hit by a car early morning as she was crossing the road with her 9 tiny babies. Eldad and I rushed to her as fast as we could. Sadly the mom died on impact, but her 9 babies were still alive protected in her pouch. Our hearts stopped, it was a painful sight to see, heart-wrenching, it breaks us down and keeps us awake at night, but we have to stay strong and focused for those that have a chance, and these 9 babies needed us more than ever. They were running out of time too.

I will never forget the pain and sorrow I felt when I picked up the mom who lost her life hours ago to a speeding driver. Her babies didn’t know, they kept feeding off of her as she gave them comfort to the end. Her soul was alive, she would always be their mother. 

We took the family to El Segundo Animal Hospital which was highly recommended by our amazing and very knowledgeable in wildlife rescue partner Freddy Kelly at PAL Rescue. The babies had to be disconnected as soon as possible as the milk turns toxic when the mother dies, and it causes liver damage in babies and kills them. At the hospital the vet inspected the babies, there were no physical injuries, but the next few days would be crucial in their survival. It was so incredibly hard on me emotionally to see the mom being separated from her joeys, so I decided to aquamate her at VIP Aquamation and to name her Akira which means sunlight in Thai. 

The babies spend the night at PAL Rescue’s volunteer Heather Provence's house. She cleaned them up, raised their body temperature and fed them. In the morning she took them to the Wetlands and Wildlife Care Center where Lisa Peronne and her dedicated team tube-fed them as they were too tiny to eat from a regular syringe. 
Two weeks later Eldad and I went to visit the opossum babies. Sadly, 3 babies didn’t make it, but the remaining 6 were super strong and healthy. It was a miracle that they survived at all and it’s because of the amazing work of the people who took care of them along their journey. Seeing them blossom was so rewarding, it was one of the happiest moments of my life. I fell in love with these special little angels and decided that I want to learn more about them. Are you ready to fall in love with the opossums too?

It’s unfortunate that opossums have such a bad reputation created by people who lack knowledge about them. Not only are opossums incredibly cute, but they are so beneficial to our ecosystem and our personal health. They eat ticks, cockroaches, rats, mice and also clean up your gardens from overripe fruit, snails, slugs and dead animals. They are resistant to snake venom so they hunt rattlesnakes minimizing your encounter with one near your home. But most importantly, one opossum may eat as many as 5000 ticks a season which helps limit the spread of tick-borne diseases. There is a reason why they are called the sanitation of the wild. Opossums are also immune to rabies and are 8 times less likely to carry rabies than any other mammal. Did you know that they are extremely intelligent and can find their way out of a maze faster than a cat?

Opossums are the only marsupial in the United States and they are also the oldest surviving mammal with a nickname “living fossil”. They survived Cretaceous/Paleogene extinction event 65 million years ago completely unchanged. It was the end for the dinosaurs but not for the mighty opossums!

Opossums can give birth to between 6-25 babies, 1 to 3 times a year, but only 13 at most will survive as a mother only has 13 teats with which to feed them. When opossum babies are born, they are the size of a jelly bean, and yet immediately after birth, they crawl into their mother’s pouch for further development. An opossum mother carries her babies in her pouch for two and a half months until they are too big to fit in it. Then they climb onto her back and she carries them around while teaching them how to find food sources and how to avoid predators. 

Every one of our Hope For Paws rescues has the same outcome, all our animals get adopted into the most amazing forever homes. But the opossum rescue was different. We saved their lives but we had to let them go into this big world never knowing what will happen to them and if they will be ok. As I scattered their mom’s ashes right where we released her babies, I cried for a long time. It was a final goodbye with a prayer that she will always look over her babies and will always protect them as she did laying on that road alone. 

This rescue was the most emotional one for us but also educational because we learned so much about these incredible animals and now we can bring awareness on how to share this beautiful planet with all it’s beautiful and special creatures. If you see a dead opossum, please look closely to see if there are surviving babies in her pouch, you may be their last chance at survival and they will do you good in return. There is a reason why an opossum is so awesome. They are all love. I would like to wish our baby opossums the strength, bravery and lots of adventures in this big, crazy world. I know your mom is watching over you and we will never forget you.

xoxo Loreta

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