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Wildlife Rehabilitation and Pickles the Opossum

Updated on October 14, 2014
Pickels the Opossum
Pickels the Opossum | Source

If you live long enough, chances are that at some point in your life, you will encounter a wild critter that needs help. Perhaps you've already rescued your share of birds, squirrels, or baby rabbits. There are reasons to leave rescue to the experts and Pickles, the Opossum is a good example. And...did you know that it is illegal for you to rescue without a license? Check your state laws because it's true.

Pickles was rescued as a baby and raised by humans and domestic pets. She lost her ability to survive in the wild and now she must live her life in a cage without the companionship of other opossums. Pickles won't raise any more babies and she'll never know the freedom of wandering in the darkness of night. But Pickles is one of the lucky rescues. In August of 2012,her rescuers surrendered her to The Nature Zone in Lynchburg, Virginia where the folks know how to take care of her but they waited too late. If Pickles had been taken to a licensed wildlife rehabilitator when they found her, she would still be living the good life in the wild.

Wildlife rehabilitation is a science. It requires special training and most rehabilitators specialize in one area such as birds of prey, song birds, cats, reptiles, etc. The reason rehabilitators specialize is because it takes special equipment, special food, and a lot of knowledge to properly manage an injured or displaced wild creature. The laws are strict and can carry severe fines if you are found taking care of wild animals without a license.

The National Wildlife Rehabilitators Association (NWRA) is the best resource for those interested in becoming wildlife rehabilitators. For the rest of us, there is only one piece of information you need if you find an injured or displaced wild animal.

Call your local animal shelter or a Veterinarian. They can tell you how to handle the immediate situation and put you in touch with a trained and licensed rehabilitator. Contacting an expert ensures that the animal you are rescuing will get the best professional medical help and in most cases, be returned to their natural habitat.

Personal Experience

We all have a story so let me tell you mine. A few years ago, a neighbor called me outside to see a "big bird that would not fly away". The bird was a magnificent Cooper's Hawk that stood about 14 inches tall. There was no physical evidence of an injury but the neighbor was right, the bird would not fly away. In fact, it did not even appear to be afraid of us. It was just standing there looking at us, or so we thought.

Fortunately, I had a car carrier so I grabbed a heavy jacket and the carrier and headed back outside. I placed the jacket over the hawk and gently picked it up and put it in the carrier without incident. It took a few phone calls to find a rehabilitator that specialized in birds of prey but I found one that lived about 30 minutes away. She agreed to meet me the next morning and take the bird. I was instructed not to feed it or give it water; to keep the carrier covered and leave the bird alone until it could be delivered.

The next morning I made the trip with the hawk and the rehabilitator took one look and knew something was horribly wrong. She said the hawk was in good physical shape so there was something more serious causing the hawk not to be afraid of humans and, to be unwilling to fly. I left the hawk in her capable hands and asked if she would update me when she knew more.

A few days later she called. The beautiful Cooper's Hawk was euthanized on the third day after veterinarians discovered that the bird was totally blind. The assumption is that it either flew into a car and suffered an injury to the eyes or, had tripped while hunting and suffered a head trauma. Cooper's Hawks hunt on the ground, chasing small rodents through the brush until they capture them. This bird could never return to the wild and could not protect itself in a captive environment due to blindness so it was euthanized. As sad a story as it is, the bird was managed in the most compassionate way, thanks to a skilled wildlife rehabilitator and the awesome veterinarians at The Wildlife Center in Waynesboro, Virginia..

Cooper's Hawk with a Licensed Wildlife Rehabilitator
Cooper's Hawk with a Licensed Wildlife Rehabilitator

Pickles - The Ambassador

Poor Pickles, the opossum. If only she had gotten in the right hands. It's too late for Pickles to be rehabilitated but perhaps she can be the Ambassador(ess) for other wild critters.

Pickles is loved by the staff and volunteers at The Nature Zone and she gets plenty of attention but, that's not what opossums like. They like to sneak through the night foraging for food and, to play dead. Right?

Pickles is now a movie star. The Nature Zone has a web cam on her 24 hours a day and she has become a local celebrity. Check out her feature film by clicking here. The user ID and password are "nature". The web cam is down sometimes so check back if it doesn't work. And, while you're watching, ask yourself if humans have been kind to Pickles by making her a pet.

Note: Pickles may be sleeping so check back if she doesn't come out to smile for the camera.

© 2012 Linda Crist


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  • lrc7815 profile image

    Linda Crist 5 years ago from Central Virginia

    Hi sgbrown! It is bitter sweet but both stories turned out for the best. That little opossum you found is probably very mad at you. You took his nice warm towels away. lol It's hard sometimes to accept that if we let them get to close to us it becomes more threatening to their survival. I really appreciate your visit and story.

  • lrc7815 profile image

    Linda Crist 5 years ago from Central Virginia

    Hello Peggy! I am so glad you visited and thought my little hub might be helpful to someone else. These little lost critters need our help but it's so important that we don't impose our own feelings over what is best for them. Thank you so much!

  • sgbrown profile image

    Sheila Brown 5 years ago from Southern Oklahoma

    This is a bitter sweet story. You were right in taking to a rehabilitation person who knew what they were doing. It is sad that she had to be euthanized but it is better than being eaten by a dog or other predator. I enjoyed your story about pickles too. My hubby and I were cleaning out the bard just the other day and found a opposum living in a box of old towels that he was going to use in his shop. Hubby just picked him up by the tail and walked him out to the woods and let him go. I did get some pictures of him before he wandered off! Good story! Voted up and interesting! :)

  • Peggy W profile image

    Peggy Woods 5 years ago from Houston, Texas

    Hi Linda,

    Excellent hub! I am going to link this one to my hub concerning the wildlife rehabilitation of the baby squirrels that we found. Like you said, it takes special training to know how to handle injured wildlife and this will hopefully aid people in knowing what to do if they find themselves in a situation involving any type of animal needing some help. Up votes and definitely sharing.

  • lrc7815 profile image

    Linda Crist 5 years ago from Central Virginia

    Hi aviannove! The Cooper's was beautiful and it broke my heart that it had to be put down. But, with no vision, there was no option for it could not protect itself even in captivity. I love all animals but the birds of prey are my obsession. Thanks for reading another hub.

  • aviannovice profile image

    Deb Hirt 5 years ago from Stillwater, OK

    It is a shame about Pickles, yes, living in a cage. No animal should be forced into that scenario. I have never seen a calm Cooper's Hawk, especially in captivity. At Tri-State Bird Rescue, they were in padded cages, due to their personalities. Even away from Tri-State, I raised my share of birds, and they do require a lot of care, especially the little ones.

  • lrc7815 profile image

    Linda Crist 5 years ago from Central Virginia

    Hi vespawoolf! Thanks for dropping by. I'm glad you enjoyed the story of Pickles. The hawk story is sad but I am still so happy that the hawk found me and I was able to get it to the right people. It could have become a chew toy for a dog and that would have been horrible. Wildlife rehabilitators don't get enough credit, do they?

  • vespawoolf profile image

    vespawoolf 5 years ago from Peru, South America

    What an interesting hub! The story about the blind hawk was very sad, but I enjoyed reading about Pickles the Opossum. When I was little we found a baby raccoon that had been abandoned. Back then, we didn't know about the laws. My parents turned the raccoon over to my grandmother, who lived in the country right near a forest. She raised the raccoon and I enjoyed visits to my grandmother's house and the chance to play with the raccoon.

    Well, the raccoon grew up quickly, found a mate and returned to the wild. My grandmother wasn't experienced in raising wild animals but I guess she understood the need to help it to return to its habitat. She said weeks later, she would sometimes catch a glimpse of what she thought to be the raccoon she had raised, staring out at her from the leafy treetops. Thanks to the help of volunteers, many injured animals have been rescued and returned to the wild. Thank you for sharing with us!

  • lrc7815 profile image

    Linda Crist 5 years ago from Central Virginia

    Hey Shauna. Your cats are smart! Thanks for reading!

  • bravewarrior profile image

    Shauna L Bowling 5 years ago from Central Florida

    Very cool, Linda. I have a family of 'possoms living across the street from me. They neighborhood cats know to become 'statuesque' when they make their trek into my backyard, as a 'possom' will do major damage to a cat! They are cool to watch, tho.

  • lrc7815 profile image

    Linda Crist 5 years ago from Central Virginia

    Mhatter - Raccoon are fun to watch. Wonder where yours go on Tuesday? lol

  • Mhatter99 profile image

    Martin Kloess 5 years ago from San Francisco

    Thank you for sharing this with us. Sf, at least where I live, has richly surprizing species of wild life. Currently we have a gang of 4 raccoons who rule my block on Monday nights.