Written by long-time carer and FAWNA member Mabel Bell
Watch for Western Pygmy Possums (Noongar: Mundarda)
At this time of the year, we appeal to vineyard workers to keep a lookout for pygmy possums. Rarely seen, being nocturnal and only weighing 10 to 20 grams fully grown, they can often be found on the vines at harvest time. They look a bit similar to a mouse with their fawn or reddish brown coat and white belly, but their coiled tail is unmistakable. Have a look at those ears folded forward over the eyes and big black brown eyes in a whiskered small face - what an adorable little creature.
If you should find a pygmy possum in its leaf nest during the day, it might be asleep so soundly that it is quite cold to touch and does not rouse easily when taken from the nest. The night is another story – that is its time to be very active indeed.
If there is any danger for instance from machinery, place it gently in a safe area such as the fork of a tree or a hollow stump and pile leaf litter over it, so it is well hidden from predatory birds. If grapes are being mechanically harvested it may be a better option to remove it to a safer area. Do not let this precious little animal get into the wine!
Watch for Western Grey Kangaroo Road Victims (Noongar: Yonga)
It is very distressing to find an injured roo by the road side. It is even more distressing if you hit it. However, nothing is as bad as trying to avoid hitting it and putting yourself and other road users at risk. Make your decision firstly to save yourself and others on the road. Deal with the consequences later in safety. It is not easy to deal with a large injured animal on a busy road. As habitats shrink more kangaroos are coming into built up areas and we are seeing this occurring near the town centre.
None of us like leaving an injured animal, so here are a number of ways to deal with it depending on circumstances and location. If the animal is full grown or a large juvenile, do not approach. It will be very stressed and will bite, scratch and kick hard! If concussed, it may regain consciousness quickly although it appears stunned.
If injuries are obvious, fractured limbs or head injuries, it is kinder to euthanize on the spot. The only authority to do this is DPaW. Ring 9752 5555 at all hours.
Never attempt to pick up and put into your car a concussed adult or large juvenile – not even if you wrap it well and your passenger nurses it. It may regain consciousness at any time and may then be impossible to hold. A wild roo in your moving car is not only scary, it could cause an accident. Unfortunately, this has happened. Not many carers are equipped to handle a large wild roo.
If the roo is dead, it is best to drag it off the road so it is not a traffic hazard. Ring the administration officer or ranger on 9781 0466, who will assist with removal. If it is a female, check the pouch. Even a furless Joey may be saved and carers will accept it.
To remove it from the teat, gently break suction using your finger to open the mouth, which may be sealed. Then lift the baby out, wrap it – the face as well – in soft warm material and get it to us as soon as possible.
If the Joey is at the stage where it is ‘in and out’ of the pouch, it will be near by its mother and if it weighs 4 kilos or less, it will need to come in for care. Approach slowly and quietly, making a clucking noise and kneel. It may cluck back and come to you. Wrap it securely and hold on if alone. Put it into a pillowslip or bag, tie the top and put it into the boot or on the floor of the back seat of your car for safety.
If you have to catch a Joey, it is best to approach from behind and grasp the base of the tail with one hand and around its body under the front legs with the other. Hold firmly against your body and get someone to cover the head with a bag and secure it well. Even a frightened small animal may kick – so take care.
It is not a good idea to take a Joey home unless you have acreage near forest and/or a local mob. A small backyard is not a place to rear a kangaroo. It takes 2 to 3 years before release to be successful. Take it to a wildlife carer who will know of a perfect home for your rescued sweet, little Joey.
Watch for Sea Birds - Storm Victims
Winter storms, especially those coming off the sea, bring with them exhausted, battered migratory or resident birds of all sizes. The larger ones most frequently brought in to care are Albatrosses, Petrels, Shearwaters, Gannets and Skuas. Smaller ones are the very dainty Prions, Gulls and Terns. There are many different varieties of all these species.
If on your beach walk you see an exhausted bird, sitting on the water away from the breaking waves – it could mean that it is just resting there until the storm abates or until it gathers strengths. It may be bobbing round out there for hours, before flying off or paddling out to sea to feed, depending upon the species.
If the bird is obviously in need of help – floundering in the shallows, sitting on the shore, in the dunes or even off shore and exhausted, then it may well need to come into care.
At all times on the beach, please have dogs under control so birds are not harassed.
We think the best and safest way to handle big birds such as Albatrosses and Giant Petrels is to approach quietly from the rear with a heavy towel or jacket and wrap it firmly round those huge wingspans of over two meters, pinning them in place so they do not flap. Be aware that you must also control the beak, which is meant for stabbing fish and may do the same to you. So either be brave enough to hold the back of the head or neck or throw the towel over the beak. If you decide to hold the upper and lower beak together be careful you do not cut off the air supply. Most sea birds have visible nostrils on their beak; take care you do not put your hand over them. Those that do not have nostrils will probably breathe by opening the beak. Therefore, do not hold it tight shut.
Bundle the bird securely in the towel enclosing the feet – these webbed feet may have a sharp claw used for grabbing fish, so take care. Secure the bird well in your car – in a bag or carton or have a passenger nurse it. Usually these magnificent birds are too exhausted to defend themselves, but always be aware of sharp beaks and barbed claws. The life span of some of these species is over thirty years – so they are well worth saving.
Usually the smaller birds, especially the Prion are swept onto the beach as a whole flock, so the beach is littered with birds – birds on the waves, on the shore, in the dunes and on land. They are very light and utterly exhausted – they will probably not peck or claw you. Handle them gently and as little as possible. Put them into a container or wrap them. The depots are used to handling these birds in mass. Unfortunately, the survival rate is small. We can get them feeding well and they look fit, but because they are birds that live constantly on the wing, flying low over the sea, dipping their beaks into the ocean to feed on plankton and such it is not good to have them on their feet and caged. Those that make it, still run into problems on release when the wind has to have the right uplift to get them airborne. Then they have to continue their migration and hopefully they will find another flock to fly with.
Other birds needing care are the fishing line victims. Usually they are tangled with fishing line with up to three hooks embedded somewhere in feathers or flesh – mostly flesh. If the hooks are obvious, we usually remove them – untangle the line, feed and rest the bird and release it. Sometimes the hooks are swallowed and our vets very kindly spend a lot of time removing these at no charge. The birds and their carers thank them.
Watch for Western Ringtail Possums (Noongar: Nguaren)
You either hate them or love them, but one thing is for certain: If you ever get the opportunity to rear one, you will forever love them.
Few countries can boast wild animals in the backyard – we can! If Busselton had an identifying animal – it would be our sweet possum.
Most of us enjoy watching them on our fences and hearing them stomping on the roof and tolerate the nibbled roses – we are a very caring population in Busselton. You bring a lot of possums into care - sick, injured or orphaned and our carers have a good record for saving them.
Remember that your safety is most important when saving animals so don't put yourself or anyone else in any danger.
If handling a sick or injured animal, remember it will be stressed and - unless too weak - bite and scratch hard and it will HURT. So approach it with care, either with thick gloves or with medium-heavy towel to drop over the animal. Grasp the back of the neck through the towel, swing it around to wrap up the feet and place it gently in a cage, carton or bag and get it to the Vet or to a carer. You must keep any rescued animal quiet, dark and warm to give it a good chance to survive.
Orphaned babies are usually lost off mother’s back on their first night out of the pouch. They must grip mum with both teeth and claws. If there are twins there is not much room – if they get dislodged they might fall off.
Should you discover a baby on the ground or alone up in a tree, rescue it before a cat, dog or crow gets to it. Bring it in as soon as possible, it will be cold and in shock. Put it into a woollen sock or beanie and put it against your heart, the beat will soothe it.
Possums are easily hand reared and make adorable companions for up to nine months, after which they are returned to the wild.
If you do find one and decide to rear it yourself, bring it in for advice and check over. They are too precious to lose.
Babies taken from a dead mother’s pouch, need very special care, always bring these in.
As the Western Ringtail Possum is a threatened species the Department of Parks and Wildlife (DPaW) requests that each one coming into care be reported to them.
Their survival is in our hands. If we disregard their needs, they will become extinct. They are different from the eastern states Common Ringtail Possums, so we can’t replace them. Their habitat is mainly confined to Peppermint Country and the biggest concentration is in Busselton and surrounds.
To help preserve our possums, do grow Peppies – if possible a canopy of them for the possums’ feeding and for construction of their dreys (nests). Other native shrubs and trees are also valuable food sources.
In deep winter when food is scarce and mothers have pouch babies, and in hot summer when possums die from dehydration, you could put some chopped fruit on the fence or roof. Do this only about once or twice a week to prevent them from becoming dependant and forgetting how to find their own food. You will be rewarded by seeing that baby on mums back in the spring.
Keep dogs and cats confined at night – we lose more possums to pets than to cars.
Possums are also a big tourist attraction. So for every reason we must preserve and protect them. They are magic!
September / October
Watch for juvenile Brush-tailed Phascogales (Noongar: Wambenger)Juvenile Brush-tailed Phascogales start appearing and sometimes need care. Wilbur (pictured below) came into care last year with quite a few brothers, sisters and possibly cousins. Peter and Carol cared for them, releasing many of them back into their natural environment.
Watch for Southern Brown Bandicoot (Noongar: Quenda)
Pockets of bushland where this delightful animal still lives, exist in and around urban areas such as Busselton and many other places of the South West. However, it is endemic to this area.
It is not an easy animal to spot, being both shy and nocturnal with an ability to scoot very fast. However, it leaves clues to it's presence, for instance small, shallow, conical diggings in your lawn or garden as it searches out worms, grubs and roots upon which it feeds. Or it may help itself to dog or cat food – a very brave thing to do when the cat or dog is enemy number one.
The grey-brown animals with cream-coloured bellies are sometimes mistaken for rats, even though their body shapes are far more compact and their pointed heads and short, stiff tails should make them easily recognisable.
The nests are fairly shallow, open burrows, lined with dry grass and leaves, concealed under shrubs, logs, timber or buildings.
There are up to four babies born twice a year and at any time of the year as long as food is plentiful. The babies leave the pouch when still quite small. Sometimes they remain in the nest while mother forages, but very often they run along with her. As can be imagined, the mortality rate is very high, especially when the young get to the stage where they have to find a new habitat – suburbs are not habitat friendly. However, they can be if everyone cares. A small tunnel under fences will open up a larger range for the colony and everyone will benefit. If you think, their habitat is threatened by development let DEC know, so they can be removed to a safer area.
Keep pets controlled, most injuries and deaths are caused by cats and dogs.
Get to know the individual members of the colony, their habits and threats, so you can protect them if necessary. If a diminished home range will cause food shortage, you can top it up with dog biscuits, chook pellets, peanuts or chicken bones on occasion – but not all the time. We don’t want them to become dependent. Leave a shallow dish of water – especially in summer.
If you should find an injured, sick or orphaned quenda, you will have to try to catch it. Easy said! They are a neat, shapeless parcel of muscle and slippery, coarse fur – very fleet of foot.
A crab net, a medium thick towel, so you can feel the neck part to get a grip, or an open bag to run it into may help. Don’t ever be tempted to catch it by the tail, it is frail and may break off. I have never had one attempt to bite, but beware of claws.
Having caught it, put it into an open weave pillow slip and tie the top. They are the greatest escape artists, but once secure in the pillow slip, they should be safe until you can get them to the vet or a carer.
This is one of the cutest, most engaging animals. Let us try to preserve it for future generations. Let us not assume someone else is caring for our wildlife – it is all up to us, the people!
Mabel and Peter Bell recieving life-memberships to FAWNA for
their many years of dedicated service as carers and as a depot.