On the Subject of Possums

When the highlight of your weekend includes stalking a possum, you should probably get a life. But really, it’s much more exciting than it sounds.

The possums of Australia (in this case, the brush tail, not to be confused with the ring tail), are pretty interesting creatures, especially when you find one living in your backyard. There also shouldn’t be confused with our American opossums, which are, apparently, an entirely different species, yet share a name due to the misjudgement of one of Captain Cook’s lackeys, who thought they looked similar, and thus named them as such. Confused yet? 

He looked just like this! (Courtesy of Wikipedia)

As you may know, I have a bit of a fascination with Australian animals, if for no other reason that they are so different than what we have at home. Not to mention they all seem to have pouches. Convenience through evolution; I like it.

 So, when my boyfriend’s hippy-type neighbours, an lovely older couple who are possibly shut ins, their only  exception being to go outside and feed their cockatoos and chickens about 10 times a day, mentioned that there were possums in the backyard, and apologized for their loud noises, I was intrigued. (They make loud sounds in mating season.. I’m not going to touch that one). They also mentioned not to tell the real estate agent, who’s been coming round to show the property, so one can guess a family of possums doesn’t do much to enhance a place’s resale value.

The backyard cockatoos

They did say they often would interact with humans, and take food from their hand, like a bird might do. To which I, being American, said, don’t do that! You’ll get rabies. We are cautioned from an early age to, as common sense dictates, avoid contact with wild, exotic animals, as the rabies vaccine is a bitch, as we all know. Old Yeller was frothing at the mouth and had to be put down..you or your labrador could be next…the worrying thought of every school kid forced to watch that terrible movie. 

A great idea for a kid's movie?

But this was the surprising reply I get- Rabies doesn’t exist here. How is this possible? Over hundreds of years of colonialism and settlement in Australia by outsiders, not one rabid dog, squirrel, or drunkard has made it way here? I didn’t believe it either, but apparently it’s true.

Determined to see the backyard possum (I should now mention that they are nocturnal, adding a touch of difficulty in locating one), I got to work. I had heard they were big fans of bananas. I had just bought some bananas that day, in fact, however fruit is expensive here so he wasn’t going to get one of mine. I wanted to see him, but not so much that I was going to, potentially, waste a nice happy yellow banana. Luckily, the fruit bowl also contained some apples on the verge of turning, so apples it was.

I cut some up and distributed them on the window sills, porch, etc… hoping they would entice our friend to come around.

It worked! Within the hour an inquisitive possum turned up in a tree in the backyard. I like to think he came because he smelled the apples, but it’s more likely he had always been in that tree, I just hadn’t been looking for him. True to form, he took a piece of apple from Max’s hand, though he must have known I was American, and thus from a rabies prone country, and avoided taking a piece from me.

Later that night, I was talking to one of my good friends back home, and mentioned my Dr. Doolittle like skills of possum-finding. The conversation went something like this:

Me: There is a possum in the backyard, he is so cute and even took an apple from hand!

Matt: Don’t do that, you’ll get rabies.

Looks like we can finally give one point to America on the danger scale! However, some quick research shows rabies has made it to Indonesia several years ago, a country which was previously free of the disease, so I think it’s only a matter of time.

And next time, I’ll write about something more exciting.

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4 thoughts on “On the Subject of Possums

  1. Good article and interesting. Hope your doing well and enjoying the Australian experience. Retirement party tomorrow so should be fun although I do not like being the center of attention. Guess for a few hours I can survive it.gad

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