What to Do When You See an Opossum in Trouble on the Road

Help! There’s an injured or possibly dead opossum in the road. What should I do?

If you can safely do so, it’s generally a good idea to stop when you find an animal in the road, whether the animal is dead or alive. Helping a live animal off the road and getting the animal into care – even if the only care option is euthanasia – is the right thing to do. Moving a dead animal out of the road will decrease the chances that animals scavenging the body will themselves become victims of a vehicle strike. (It’s important to always have sturdy gloves in your car for just this need.)

Opossums present a special case, as they are marsupials. In fact, they’re the only marsupial in North America! As such, an injured or dead opossum may be a mother with babies in her pouch.

If the opossum is in the road, move him/her to the shoulder.

If the animal is alive, get him/her into a box or other carrier and use Animal Help Now’s wildlife emergency service app to find the nearest emergency assistance.

If you are uncertain whether or not the animal is alive, gently touch the animal’s back feet and eyes and face, check for any movement as you do so. If the animal is alive, get her into a box or other carrier and use Animal Help Now’s wildlife emergency service to find the nearest emergency assistance.

If the animal is dead and has a pouch, check for babies in the pouch. You can do so by gently lifting up the skin on the pouch and peeking inside. If there are babies in the pouch, you will need to take the mom’s body as is to a rehabilitator.

Note: If for some reason taking the mom’s body is not possible, you can transfer the babies to a warm container or carrier with a towel or blanket, but this is an extremely delicate procedure.

We suggest keeping an animal rescue kit (https://ahnow.org/kits) in your vehicle.

Animal Help Now makes finding a wildlife rehabilitator easier than ever. AHNow’s wildlife emergency service is available on the web at www.AHNow.org and as a free smartphone app (iPhone and Android).

With a Million Species at Risk of Extinction from Human Causes, What’s an Individual to Do?

Note: This piece was originally published in the Boulder Daily Camera on May 24, 2019.

The recently released summary of the upcoming UN report on nature describes a biosphere rapidly degrading under the profoundly deleterious influences of Homo sapiens. (Yes, the upright species with the opposable thumbs and magnificent brains.)

Most of us have seen the headlines covering one of the study’s more frightening conclusions – that humans are putting a million animal and plant species at risk of extinction. That’s one in every nine.

The summary’s key messages:

  • Nature embodies biodiversity and ecosystems.
  • Nature sustains and inspires humans.
  • Nature is deteriorating at an increasingly accelerated rate at human hands, and in turn is increasingly less able to sustain and inspire humans.
  • “Transformative change” is required to effectively address this crisis.

The authors define transformative change as “a fundamental, system-wide reorganization across technological, economic and social factors, including paradigms, goals and values.”

Transformative change is a rather tall order in a world of conflict and competition, diminishing resources and increasing human population – where one human’s disappearing ice caps and starving polar bears are another’s emerging trade routes.

Spoiler alert: the humans who value nature over wealth acquisition are the only ones who can guide us out of this mess.

The good news, I suppose, is that with one in nine species at risk of extinction, we don’t have to fly to Africa or bus down to the zoo to see endangered animals. They’re right in our backyard! The study essentially asserts they’re actually inside our homes, too – get up close to a mirror to see one.

The assessment’s authors rank the five direct drivers of change in nature with the largest relative global impacts so far. They are, in descending order: (1) changes in land and sea use (2) direct exploitation of organisms (3) climate change (4) pollution and (5) invasive species.

It will not surprise you, reader, that our species is singularly to blame for these adverse impacts … though I do fault prairie dogs, too; more on that below.

I think it was Einstein who said, “Transformative change cannot be achieved by the same ninnies who created the need for transformative change.” Maybe not verbatim. The good thing is that change can happen in a generation. Perhaps we’ll lose only a half million species!

In the meantime, it’s high time for us – each of us – to get right. Those deleterious changes in land use? We’re fattening up animals to fatten up ourselves when we should be feeding our fellow humans. We need to eat lower on the food chain. More plant protein. More local. Same with “the direct exploitation of organisms.” The biggie there is commercial fisheries. Consuming more plant protein covers those first two, and arguably it’s the best thing you can do to combat climate change, not to mention that fewer wild horses and badgers and coyotes and mountain lions will be killed by ranchers and government agents in your name. And we need to buy less stuff. Stuff is not the stuff of happiness.

Now that we are surrounded by endangered species, our everyday actions can effect transformative change. This starts by valuing the wild animals and plants around us. Cherish and support pollinators. Keep cats indoors; better yet, give them access to the elements from inside a screened-in deck or porch. Domestic cats and dogs kill billions of wild animals every year in the United States. Make your windows bird friendly – a billion birds die in this country each year from window strikes. Drive carefully. Animals haven’t adapted to our highways and fast-moving vehicles. Don’t use glue traps – they are criminal, whether they ensnare a target or nontarget animal. If you see abandoned fishing line on your next hike, retrieve it. If you’re tempted to abandon fishing line/gear, just abandon fishing instead, please.

Be ready if you encounter injured, potentially orphaned or distressed wildlife. Downloading our free app. Hug your local wildlife rehabilitator. Hug a hunter, too, if you want to, but let’s modify the funding mechanisms for our state wildlife agencies so those of us who don’t hurt and kill wildlife have much more say in wildlife “management.”

Be humbled. We humans are not that great. We could be, but that would require … what’s the term? Oh yeah, transformative change! Read the nature study summary (bit.ly/IPBESReport) and the 14-page Green New Deal (https://www.brightest.io/green-new-deal).

Oh, and about those prairie dogs – I was just kidding. We have met the destructive pests, and they are us.

Careful What You Prune and Fell

With apologies to Mr. Kilmer:

I know I must look hard to see
A squirrel’s nest in a leafy tree
Raccoon dens, too, elude my sight
As tree trunks reach their tow’ring heights

Most of us know by now that landscape and tree services can imperil our wild neighbors and their homes.

The climate crisis is making things worse, as in many areas squirrels, for instance, are now giving birth three times a year instead of two.

The rules are pretty simple.

  • Is the work even necessary? Dead trees provide habitat for hundreds of species. Keep them around, if you can.
  • Schedule the work for the times of year when wild animals are least apt to be raising dependent young. November through February and late May to mid-July are still the best times in most areas of the United States, but global heating is impacting this.
  • Before work begins, watch for any activity that might indicate the presence of nests or dens.
  • Ask anyone you hire to keep a lookout for nests and dens while they do their work.
  • Tell anyone you hire you do not want any animals harmed or active animal homes disturbed.
  • Tell anyone you hire to alert you immediately if animals are harmed or left homeless.

If the worst happens, use Animal Help Now to find expert assistance in caring for injured or orphaned animals.

Woodpecker, dead tree (snag)
Dead trees, whether standing or down, are priceless. Here’s a great resource
to find out more: http://cavityconservation.com/saving-dead-trees/.

A fate worse than death, then death

I’ll not soon forget one of my heroes – Jon Stewart, then host of The Daily Show – giggling while airing a video of a skunk or raccoon with her head stuck in a jar of peanut butter or some such.

Comedy is personal, and one person’s funny is another’s unfunny. I don’t blame a satirical genius for occasionally taking the easy slapstick laugh. And gods know we don’t need to reinforce the stereotype that vegans are humorless.

The stuck skunk came to mind when a friend told me yesterday that her landlord in animal-loving Boulder, Colorado, had hired a “pest control” operator to kill rats who had moved into her house after high waters displaced them from their homes along an irrigation ditch. (For what it’s worth, even among humane wildlife control operators you’ll find a few that are OK killing rats.)

This operator arrived ill equipped for the job. His snap traps were too small for rats, but they were all he had, he said, so he put one out anyway. The next day, the trap was gone. The rat was found days later in a wall some distance away, his head stuck in the trap, having succumbed to death from starvation or thirst or internal injuries after what was likely unspeakable pain and suffering. Everybody fights to live.

To its credit, the City of Boulder on its web page on “safe and effective rat control” encourages the public to provide oversight on operators: “Ensure that you understand the principles for effective trapping and don’t assume that a pest control service will use these techniques unless you require it when you hire them.”

We support the City’s advice on minimizing conflicts with rats, but we are at odds with their quick-to-kill approach. Rats are not to blame for taking advantage of the favorable living conditions provided for them in the human environment. We disparage rats and pigeons, but perhaps we need to be mindful of the adage that those characteristics we most despise in others we also see in ourselves.

Our species makes a mess of things, so is it any wonder we attract animals who thrive in messes? Is it any wonder the skunk gets her head stuck in a recklessly discarded peanut butter jar?

This year Animal Help Now debuted its wildlife conflict service, which enables anyone anywhere to get humane advice (and, in many areas, assistance) for dealing with “nuisance” wildlife. This isn’t about cash. (We’re a nonprofit.) It’s about taking responsibility. It’s about taking care of those most impacted by the havoc we’re wreaking on the world.

Spiders!

Sorry. I mean, spiders.

I’ve seen two in my bathtub now in the past several weeks. Both times were when I’d forgotten to put up their escape “ladder” – that is to say, the hand towel I keep draped over the edge of the tub.

Yes. The two times I’ve failed to replace the towel after using the tub, I’ve found spiders stranded in the basin.

I scooped them up with a postcard and deposited them into a nearby corner on the bathroom floor, so they could return to exploring or hunting or whatever it is spiders do when they’re not sleeping.

Which is to say that (a) spiders seem to enjoy forays into my bathtub and (b) when I find them there they likely aren’t lying in wait.

And more to the point, it’s to say that I live with spiders and everyone seems to get along OK.

I understand the fear. And some spiders definitely evoke it in me more than others. So I understand the desire to deposit them not on the bathroom floor but outside the house. Whether or not this sentences many of them to death or hardship, I do not know, but I do care, and so I err on the side of caution (though, black widow, you shall go outside).

Note that these words are being written by a person once so frightened of spiders that he took an aerosol can and a lighter and torched one whose only crime was being in a place in my apartment where I couldn’t easily capture or otherwise kill him.

This same person who committed that awful act would many years later relocate a brown recluse and what appeared to be hundreds of her babies.

So things change, and that’s part of the point. The arc of one’s respect for others is long, but with any luck it bends toward an increase.

The other part of the point is to imagine for just a second the likelihood that a being as tall as a skyscraper would shiver or cower when encountering a tiny little human. Right? Get it?

Life is precious. Spiders are amazing. If you don’t want to see them, though, stop trapping them in tubs and sinks. A hand towel will do the trick.