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Clinic’s Wildlife Tour provides in-depth look at its operation

By Staff | Jun 14, 2017

Sneezy, a Virginia opossum enjoys a snack after last week’s presentation at the CROW Visitor Education Center. Sneezy is one of CROW’s animal ambassadors. MEGHAN McCOY

Last Wednesday the Clinic for the Rehabilitation of Wildlife Visitor Education Center filled with all ages as they waited for the “Opossums at CROW” program to begin.

The interactive presentation by CROW Rehabber Brenna Frankel instantly grabbed the attention of the crowd as she began sharing why they should like opossums.

The opossum, the only marsupial animal found in the United States, carriers her young in her pouch for two months. Once they leave the pouch, the mom carries the babies on her back. Only about 11 babies survive out of about 20 after birth and about half of those survive to adulthood.

“They are a nomad species, so they don’t have a particular nest, or den. Mom carries their babies everywhere they go and they do forage. They can travel up to 25 miles a day,” Frankel said.

The opossum can live up to two years in the wild and have up to two litters in their lifetime.

Sheldon, the gopher tortoise, and one of CROW’s ambassadors, munched on some hibiscus while participants of the Wildlife Walk learned a little more about the nonprofit organization. MEGHAN McCOY

Their tail, which is made up of their spine and muscle, is their first adaptation for balance and control.

“It helps them get from tree to tree. Branch to branch and let’s the babies hang from their tails,” Frankel said. “They don’t have balance without their tail.”

Their feet, she said are also amazing. An indentation that runs down the middle of their palm allows them to grip better. Their back feet has a thumb, which also allows them to hold and grip things easier.

The presentation also touched upon why opossums are good for the environment. The first being their feces because they are considered a pollinator species.

“All of these things that they are eating gets replanted and then it provides food for other animals. They are planting grasses, trees, shrubs, flowers, fruits and vegetables,” Frankel said.

Opossums also do not get distemper, rabies, or lime disease and they eat fleas, ticks and mosquitos. An adult opossum can eat 5,000 ticks in one year, she said.

“They are actually one of the healthiest animals we get here at the clinic,” Frankel said.

The last unique trait of the opossum is they play dead. They secrete hormones to cause themselves to pass out. They either lie on their sides, or curl up in a ball and show their 50 sharp teeth when playing dead.

At the end of the presentation, Animal Ambassador Sneezy, a Virginia opossum, made an appearance, so attendees could get a up close and personal experience with the animal as it enjoyed a snack.

Sneezy came to CROW as a baby after it was hit by a car. The car flattened his tail, broke his jaw and created eye ulcers in both eyes. When he arrived at CROW his tail was completely infected, resulting in it being amputated.

Sneezy now goes for daily walks with a harness and leash and attends different events to educate the public as an animal ambassador.

Following the presentation, many individuals joined the Wildlife Tour with CROW Development and Education Coordinator Rachel Rainbolt. The 45-minute tour further educated the participants of how the nonprofit organization began, as well as how the hospital operates and care for wildlife.

Once the individuals exited the Visitor Education Center they gathered at the foot of the stairs as Rainbolt provided some background information of how Shirley Walter found a royal tern that was hit by a car on the causeway in 1968.

When Walter could not find services that would help wildlife, she brought it back to her home. Dr. Phyllis Douglass provided veterinary assistance while other volunteers helped Walter, which eventually led to the formation of CROW.

As individuals learned about the history of the nonprofit organization they were guided on a tour past the student housing facility before ending up at the hospital where they received a glimpse of both floors, while learning of its daily functions.

The addition of the new state-of-the-art veterinary hospital occurred in 2009 after the “Commitment to Compassion” campaign hit its goal, providing a 4,800 square foot facility.

Throughout the tour, the participants were introduced to additional animal ambassadors, providing them with the opportunity to see wildlife, animals that are treated at the hospital for various reasons.

The tour concluded on the rehabilitation grounds where they saw Sheldon, a gopher tortoise grazing on hibiscus flowers, as well as Mina, a great-horned owl.

Every Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday, following the 11 a.m. presentation, individuals have the opportunity to join the Wildlife Tour for $20 per person. The proceeds from the tour benefits the hospital.

The tour is recommended for participants 13 years and older.

Due to limited space for the tours, individuals interested are encouraged to register in advance by calling David Waszmer, Visitor Education Center and Gift Shop manager at (239) 472-3644, or email dwaszmer@crowclinic.org.