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Learn about the Virgina Opossum.
I have just returned from my “crack of dawn” visit to my friends at WAFB-TV, Baton Rouge. I have the pleasure of visiting the CBS affiliate once a month to promote animal information and the upcoming events at the Audubon Nature Institute. For each visit I must choose my “animal ambassador” for the segment. This is not an easy job-the animals must come from the handleable collection and be able to spend the night with me in a hotel. (This is always an adventure!) This month I brought a baby opossum. I expected the crew to give me a hard-time. Opossums are not exactly an exotic or particularly attractive animal. Sure enough, as soon as I walked in the camera man said, “A possum! I can see that in my backyard.”
I hear that all the time, so does the zoo education staff that “edu-tain” daily with box turtles, rats and guinea pigs.
Sure, we would love to have some charismatic animal ambassadors. I ask for flamingos, sloths, cheetahs, cervils and more all the time. They are the “Super Models” of the animal world. It is easy to catch the public’s attention when you have such a charismatic animal to talk about, but that’s too easy. Audubon Zoo’s job is too connect people to nature. My staff and I can do it with a chicken or a frog. A talented and passionate zoo educator can make you care about an earthworm. I am very proud of them for that. ALL creatures are important to our earth, especially the ones that are not so glamorous.
So let me tell you about that little opossum-Didelphus viginiana. It is the only marsupial found in North America. It has a pouch for its young like a kangaroo. It has a prehensile tail for climbing and balance. It has poor vision but a great sense of smell. Opossums are considered “living fossils” because of the little change they have gone through since the day of dinosaurs. They have a remarkable capacity to find food and remember where they found it. They show their 50 teeth in a bluff act of aggression and if really threatened they will feign death. Opossums for their size are one of the shortest-lived animals in the world. They are immune to snake bites and resistant to rabies. They are considered nature’s “sanitary engineers” because they feed on carrion and rodents. Most important of all-they are valuable indicators of the overall health of the environment. Gosh, I love those “possums”!
So, go ahead and snicker when you see us bring these common animals on television, in our Zoomobile or on our zoo entertainment stage, but after you snicker, listen. You might learn something and learn to respect the ordinary. We all count on this planet, even those of us that are not “Super Models”.