Let’s say you find a baby chipmunk that fell
out of a tree… or worse, you hit an animal with your car.
Who do you call? Rebecca Williams has the story of people
who feel it’s their duty to nurse these animals back to health…
and get them back to the wild:
Let’s say you find a baby chipmunk that fell out of a tree… or worse, you hit an animal with your car. Who do you call? Rebecca Williams has the story of people who feel it’s their duty to nurse these animals back to health… and get them back to the wild:
(sound of phone ringing)
“Thank you for calling the Friends of Wildlife hotline for squirrels, chipmunks and other small rodents. If you have rescued a small animal please keep it warm and quiet…” (beep)
There are hotlines like these set up all over the country. There are bunny hotlines, woodchuck hotlines… you name it and there’s a volunteer hotline for it.
The woman who answers the Possum Hotline is Patti Roman. She volunteers in Michigan. She has a basement full of baby possums.
“Mom has 13 babies so if you get a weekend where two or three moms are hit I’ll get a lot of babies in a few days.”
She says possums get hit by cars a lot. They love to eat roadkill, and they’ll just sit there in the middle of the road, staring at your headlights.
Possums are marsupials like kangaroos. Except they don’t hop out of the way. They keep their babies in their pouches. When a mom gets hit, a lot of times the babies will survive. Someone will find the babies and call the Possum Hotline.
Patti Roman says she’s had up to a hundred baby possums in her basement at one time.
She puts gloves on before she pulls a possum out of its terrarium. I don’t know if you know possums, but they look like a huge hairy rat on its worst day. But this baby possum is kinda cute. He’s giving us a sharp-toothed little grin. It’s a I’ll-rip-your-hand off kind of grin.
“He’s doing the alligator gape right now. But he’s not biting me, but he is trying to scare me.”
That mouth full of sharp teeth is your first clue that possums just want to be left alone. If your dog chases after one, the possum might play dead. Then it’ll get up and waddle off when you’re not looking.
Patti Roman takes care of the possums until they’re a few months old. Then she takes them into the woods and lets them go. She says wildlife is always better off in the wild. But she says she does get criticized for interfering with nature.
“A possum who gets hit by a car is not supposed to die. It has nothing to do with natural selection. And if we can help I think we should.”
But some scientists debate that. Jim Harding is a wildlife specialist at Michigan State University.
“I think the majority of rehabilitation efforts is often just based on a human need to care for things. It isn’t really related to conservation unless you’re dealing with a very rare species.”
Harding says rehabbing some types of common animals can actually make things worse. For example – he says there are so many raccoons that they can wipe out a lot of birds because they eat their eggs.
But Patti Roman says she really feels like she’s doing the right thing. She spent 18 years at the Humane Society rescuing dogs and cats. But she never knew for sure those animals would be placed in good homes.
“When you call to check on the animal a year later – it’s been given away or run away or accidentally been killed. It was breaking my heart. And after awhile I thought, you know, I enjoy doing the wild animals because when they’re ready to go I’m not dependent on people anymore. It feeds my soul. It really does. I do this and I feel very, very good every morning that I can save a life.”
She says when she lets the possums go they don’t look back. They just take off into the woods. And even if that little possum ends up getting eaten by a fox, Roman says that’s okay, because at least that’s natural.
For The Environment Report, I’m Rebecca Williams.