Our koala tree plantings are not only ideal for koalas – they are perfect for many other species of wildlife, which koalas rely on to keep their ecosystem in top shape.
One of the first steps to making our tree plantings perfect for koalas is to encourage other wildlife to use the new habitat. Other animals perform ecosystem services that we can’t measure, or even imagine. But we know they are all required to make an ecosystem healthy. Some wildlife, like birds and some insects, fly in and start using the revegetation site within months. Most mammals, like possums and koalas, take longer, as they have to walk overland to find it, sometimes crossing dangerous roads or open fields.
We can fast-track this process by releasing orphan possums into the revegetation area. Orphaned ringtail possums are cared for by wildlife carers until they are healthy and strong enough to survive on their own, but they have nowhere to live – they lost that when their mother died. The best option for them is a completely new habitat. This is considered ‘gold standard’ soft release, because the habitat needs them, and they need the habitat, and they are not displacing or competing with resident possums.
Four orphaned Ringtail Possums named Ada, Agnes, Violet and Hilda, have been rehabilitated for over 5 months by our members Gracia & Louise, who are registered wildlife carers. They are ready for a safe new home. We have the perfect site: a 5-year-old koala tree planting, far from roads, safe from dogs. The baby possums will be soft-released into a purpose-built, predator-proof trailer aviary which will stay on site while the possums become accustomed to their new home and food plants. They will have the choice to come and go at first, until they are ready to be completely wild.
Caring for them for 5 months and building the gold class trailer aviary has cost the volunteer wildlife carers Gracia & Louise a fair bit.
We are thrilled to announce that we raised over $1400 to donate to the wildlife carers to help with their costs. Thankyou to all who donated.
Read the stories of all the orphans below, written by Gracia & Louise, their carers.
You can see more of Gracia & Louise’s little fosters on their instagram: https://www.instagram.com/gracialouise/
Gentle-natured Ada was the first of the group to come into our care, and, to our eyes, she assumed the role of calm ‘big sister’ to those who came after her. As a joey, she would like to groom and scratch her dense and splendid coat before feeding, reminding us of a truism learnt through wildlife care: ‘never rush a possum’; it is better to let them ‘do’ and ‘be’ in their own ‘possum time’. Sweet, round-eared Ada is the teacher of the quartet. In the beginning, she would hold her tail in a tight coil when not using it to grip. She loves to quietly eat the fresh green tips of new growth from atop the nesting box alongside Violet.
Ada came into care when she was found clinging to her dying mother, who had been attacked by a cat. It took days for her mother to die.
Next came ‘old soul’ Agnès. Initially, she might appear the more reserved of the group, but when she arrives, in her own good time to the gathering, she is always the last to leave and quite carefree. To us, she has the most theatrical range of expressions and mannerisms as she takes in her surroundings as she feeds on the spider-like flowers of a grevillea. She has a wonderful long nose, in profile, and she has a wise air to her. Like Ada, she is good-natured and good-humoured.
Agnes’ mother died of infection after a cat attack. Her brave mother shielded her from the attack, but paid the price.
Ada and Agnès were followed by Hilda. She joined the family with her sister Hattie who sadly did not make it. Hilda and Hattie were so alike in ways and appearance, save for their distinguishing tail tips, that it was hard to tell them apart. Hilda may be the littlest of the quartet, but she is by far the pluckiest and most adventurous. At present, she likes to lean out of the nesting box and grab hold of fresh foliage as their outdoor enclosure is replenished. She will remain at the entrance hole, munching away contendedly, seemingly oblivious to the bank of possums queuing behind her. She is inquisitive from nose to tail tip and remains ever recognisable by her ‘bed head’ and spark.
Hilda and her sister Hattie were found on their dead mother in a driveway. Their mum had been attacked by a dog, she survived the initial attack, but died later of infection. Sadly Hattie also died – the stress of an attack like that can kill joeys.
Lastly, Violet joined the family as an older joey. He came into care with a sore right eye, which healed with treatment and time. Looking at his bright eyes now, it is hard to recall, such has been his recovery. He is gentle and generous, like his new family group. He can be quite cautious when we see him during the day, but he is relaxed and kind, and always checks on the others. He is the wellbeing balm. His coat has retained its peach tint, and he is just that, a plush mellow peach.
Violet and his family were chased by a dog in a park. He sustained an eye injury which took many weeks to treat. His mother might have survived, but the separation was too long for them to be re-united.
What can you do to protect possums?
As you can see, domestic pets can be a big problem for wildlife. Cats and dogs sometimes kill possums outright, or injure them enough to kill them slowly with terrible pain.
Cats: keep them inside, and/or provide an outdoor run for them. They love it, and it keeps them safe too. You can buy one or make one yourself out of a small greenhouse from a hardware store, and re-cover it in cat-netting or chicken wire. The biggest challenge is the door.
Dogs: keep them on a lead at all times when they are out, and train them to stop and “leave it” when you call. Provide safe access for possums in your back- and front-yard by planting lots of native trees, as large as your yard permits, with interlocking branches. If possums can, they will stay up high and never come to the ground. You can tie a rope to bridge any gaps from tree to tree – possums can walk a rope, cats can’t.
Most important: if you see a cat or dog attack a possum and the possum gets away, call Wildlife Victoria on (03) 8400 7300. Pretty much every time a cat or dog makes contact with a possum, they injure it, often lethally. Someone might be able to come out and monitor the possum for injuries, and perhaps save a life, or three. If it was your dog or cat, don’t cover it up because you feel embarrassed or guilty. Just call. They are all volunteers, and they will do their best to help.
14 December 2022: Possums still in trailer full-time, getting water, fresh local browse and weak milk supplement daily from our wonderful members Dorothy, Gloria & Peter, Rebecca and Caz. They are only eating the local eucalyptus now, both Grey Box Eucalyptus microcarpa and River Red Gum Eucalyptus camaldulensis. Over this short time (10 days), Bacchus Marsh Wattle Acacia verniciflua and Gold-dust and Golden Wattle A. acinacea and A. pycnantha have not been touched by them, nor has Dropping She-oak Allocasuarina verticillata.
19 December 2022: The hatch was opened two days ago, and signs suggest that the possums went out to feed that night. Though some are still returning to sleep in the trailer nestbox, some seem to be spending the days in one of the four outside nestboxes. Only water is still being provided in the trailer, in the hope that the possums will adapt to the wild surroundings as soon as possible.
29 December 2022: Two Ringtails were found snoozing in the trailer nestbox – Ada and Violet. Hilda was found in one of the wild nestboxes in a River Red Gum. She seems to be following Agnes’ lead, taking steps towards a truly wild life. This is real progress.
11 January 2023: All the possums had left the trailer nestbox and we closed the hatch.
5 March 2023: Four more Ringtails – Sid, Feeney, Finnius and Noodles (the boys) – were soft-released into the trailer at the same property but a slightly different location. On that day Gracia & Louise checked all the ‘wild’ nestboxes and found Agnes and Hilda curled up together!
7 March 2023: Ada and Violet were found in another of the ‘wild’ nestboxes. All four have survived the first 3 months.
15 March 2023: The boys were eating the nearby browse of Grey Box (Eucalyptus microcarpa) and Sugar Gum (Eucalyptus cladocalyx). Hatch opened.
23 March 2023: Volunteer Dorothy found no sign of the boys in the trailer, and very little browse was eaten.
26 March 2023: Two of the boys were still in the trailer nestbox.
29 March 2023: All the boys had left the trailer nestbox and we closed the hatch.
17 September 2023: The third quartet of Ringtails – Dante, Kitri, Norbert & Norris – were released on another planting site. Read more about them here.