Two South American opossums that were left to die in a Red Deer dumpster show the sad side of exotic pet ownership, a wildlife advocate says.
“Someone didn’t want them, wouldn’t look after them and left them, said Debbi Rowland, co-owner of Discovery Wildlife Park in Innisfail.
One of the tiny opossums, with big wet eyes and a pink snout, was killed because of this callous treatment.
The bare-tailed woolly opossums that were found in a small kennel inside a garbage dumpster late last month were territorial males. Rowland said they had fought in the small kennel, and one died from his injuries.
The surviving opossum was initially brought to the Innisfail zoo by Alberta Fish and Wildlife officers because it needed a home.
During the animal’s few days there, Discovery Wildlife Park staff learned the opossum has highly specialized needs. It feeds on grubs, insects and mice, as well as certain kinds of plants.
Based on a diet that’s difficult to duplicate, as well as the animal’s propensity for biting hard, and its sleep habits — which are nocturnal, Rowland concluded the opossum would have made a bad pet.
“But some people don’t care. They just want something different or unusual.”
Discovery staff, as well as the Fish and Wildlife officers, initially thought that opossums can’t legally be sold in Alberta. But the South American animals apparently can be sold here because they don’t fall under either Alberta’s Controlled Animal Act or wildlife laws.
Brendan Cox, public affairs officer for Alberta Justice, said no permits are required because opossums aren’t considered dangerous, or a threat to Alberta’s environment. Since they wouldn’t survive our winters, there’s no danger of native species being squeezed out by them.
Regardless, Alberta has laws regarding the humane treatment of all animals, and Cox said the local SPCA could be investigating this case. A spokesman from the organization could not be reached for comment late on Monday.
The opossum is no longer at the Innisfail zoo. A Facebook story about it eventually led a woman to call the wildlife park, claiming she was the original owner. Rowland said this woman told Fish and Wildlife officers she had sold the opossums on condition that the buyers return them if they couldn’t look after them.
After establishing she was not the one who left the animals in the dumpster, the Fish and Wildlife officers returned the surviving opossum to her.
But Rowland maintains just because some wild animals can be sold as pets doesn’t mean they should be. “Wildlife aren’t pets … but if you’re planning on getting any pet, you need do a lot of research to see what it’s like to have it.”