Opossums, and Squirrels, and Children – Oh My!
by Suzanne Barnes
Now that school is back in session, you may find yourself with a little time on your hands. Would you like an opportunity to help the animals and support your vegan lifestyle? Then I have a job for you! Volunteer at your local nature center. This summer my son Noah and I have volunteered doing wildlife raise to release at Brunkner Nature Center. We have had three litters of opossums and one litter of gray squirrels so far. Noah is only eight, and you need to be twelve to be a junior volunteer, so he has been my “assistent”
Brunkner Nature Center is located in Troy Ohio. Not only do they have a wildlife rehabilitation unit in the spring and summer, they have their permanent animal residents that cannot be released due to injury. They also offer a preschool environmental program (PEEPS), do school visits with their wildlife ambassadors, and educational night hikes that are open to the public. Brunkner Nature Center is a nonprofit organization that counts heavily on their volunteers and memberships. A membership for a family is only thirty-five dollars and twenty-five dollars for a single person.
Volunteering has been very educational for us as a family. Did you know opossums have more teeth than any other mammal in North America? When frightened, they play dead and can omit a rotting animal smell. My son thought that this was especially cool. Fortunately, this smell was nothing we personally got to experience. It’s a good thing since they live on our kitchen table. My son has also learned that wild animals do not make good pets. They need to be back in the outdoors as nature intended. This has never been an issue for us because by the time we return them they are more that ready to go. The opossums begin to hiss and the squirrels have no patience, they can also get a little nippy.. Squirrels seem to have a permanent case of the terrible twos. The nature center also usually has a litter of something else for us to bring home. That could be almost anything that is a native species to our state.
Another important thing that we have learned is about imprinting. Imprinting means that an animal is used to being around people. We handle our raise to release animals as little as possible, I admit this can be difficult because baby furry animals are way too cute. I explained to my son that we have to care about them enough not to handle them so that when they are free they will do well. When they are returned to the nature center they go into juvenile housing. This is a really large cage outside where the animals can climb and forget they were raised by people. They aren’t in juvenile housing long before they are released back into nature.
Some of the people I meet are also educated by our raise to release work. Noah takes pictures to school and tells his teacher about whatever we happen to have living with us. His teacher recently told the class about what we do. I think that education is the key to improving wildlife conservation and assisting with the environment. When I have commented that I have opossums living with me, people usually say what disgusting animals they are. Opossums are the garbage men of nature. We need them to clean up the dead things. They are good for the environment. It is also extremely rare for a opossum to carry rabies because their core body temperature is too low for the rabies virus to survive . A good fact to know, not that you should approach a wild animal anyway.
We learned how to care for our raise to release animals by attending a mandatory class offered by the nature center. The staff is also available for us to call should we run into any problems. Not that we have had many problems, but it is comforting to know. This is our second year volunteering and we have gotten better with each new litter.
So if you are looking for something different and fun to do with your family, check into volunteering at a local nature center. If the animals aren’t your cup of tea, they probably have different programs that you could become involved with. Maybe you don’t have a nature center in your area. If not, check with local park districts and zoos for other volunteer opportunities. Our local park district is usually looking for volunteers to lead hikes and help with summer educational programs. Every little thing truly makes a difference. Many things can be accomplished through leading by example. Thank you Brunkner Nature Center for teaching our family so much.