Opossums, and Squirrels, and Children - Oh My!
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
By Suzanne Barnes
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.
Article continues below
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.