This juvenile Ringtail possum was rescued recently at Perisher. Along with its mother, it was caught up in one of the mechanisms of the Village 8 chairlift.
Sadly mum didn’t make it, but her joey (pictured) had nothing but a few tail grazes, and so it was placed into the care of a dedicated LAOKO member Dee Willoughby-Smith until its wounds healed.
This is a story about the many wonderful people and organisations that helped to rehabilitate and return Blossom back to her home amongst the Snowgums.
Lots of people have been involved from Blossom’s initial rescue, from the LAOKO emergency phone volunteers who took the call and arranged transport to the vet Dr Peter Brennan in Cooma, for assessment and treatment, LAOKO member Sue McKellar who worked with National Parks and Wildlife Services (NPWS) Environment Liaison Officer, Marion Battishall who organised the Perisher Fire brigade to help with the eventual release.
By mid- August, six weeks later, Blossom’s injuries had healed and she was ready for release, back to her home territory, the icy winter wonderland of Perisher Valley.
While in care with Dee Willoughby-Smith, Blossom has been living in a possum box lined with coconut fibre and gum leaves.
Ring tail Possums are folivores which means that Eucalypt leaves make up the primary source of nutrition. In Perisher Valley, there is only one species of Eucalypt, the Snow gum. Blossom has been fed Snow gum leaves from her home range for the two weeks prior to her release to ensure she is familiar with the taste.
In fact, after being offered Snowgum leaves, she wouldn’t eat any other type of gum leaf.
Marion Battishall said ringtail possums have very small home ranges, less than a hectare (.88ha) and are very territorial.
“This makes it very important to release them as close as possible to their original location,” Marion said.
This presented a problem as Blossom was found in a dangerous place in a shed with heavy machinery and moving parts. It could endanger Blossom to release her too close to the site of her rescue, but she needed to be released within 100 metres of her original location, or she may never locate her family and may be forced away from her release site by unfamiliar possums.
Blossom required a few important features in a release site. It must be within 100 metres of where she was found, but beyond 50 metres of where she was rescued, a full and healthy tree canopy, providing connectivity to surrounding areas (important to be safe from predators), abundant leaves to eat, shelter from the cold temperatures, and a sturdy tree limb approximately four metres off the ground.
During the search for a suitable site, it became apparent that the possums around Perisher must be moving into smaller and smaller territories due to the ever-increasing dieback event which is decimating the canopies of the Snowgums.
“After much searching, a suitable site was found near Eidelweiss Lodge,” Marion said.
The next tricky part of this release was accessing the tree, with all routes snowbound. carrying a ladder on a Skidoo was not very practical or safe, so Marion enlisted the help of the Perisher Valley Fire Brigade.
They came with their Haglund over snow vehicle with the extra tall ladder attached. The fire officers were very helpful and even installed the heavy possum box in the tree. Then it was time for Blossom to return home.
Marion carried Blossom in a beanie and climbed up the ladder and held the beanie near the entrance of the possum box. Within seconds Blossom was gone. Blossom was home.
Marion has monitored the release site, and on each occasion has found fresh Ringtail scats, a very promising sign.
One of the LAOKO animal coordinators, Kelly McMahon said she loves it when a plan comes together like this.
“It has been a real team effort,” Kelly said.
“National Parks and the Perisher Valley Fire Brigade’s help, has been absolutely wonderful.”
Blossom is a sub-adult and it is hoped she will locate her family and be welcomed home into the communal drey (a type of nest built of twigs, dry leaves, and grass, and typically assembled in the fork of a tall tree).
NPWS have also helped LAOKO with number of other rescues and releases recently; a brush tail possum rescue at Thredbo after a recent storm, the release of Spencer the Barn owl at Perisher, a hypothermic wombat also at Perisher and two wombats with mange at Thredbo and Guthega. The support of NPWS staff is very much appreciated as they are able to enlist the help of resort staff and local firefighters and enable oversnow transport.
Monday September 20, 2021
Photo at the top: This Ringtail possum joey was rescued after it got caught up in a ski chairlift with its mum. It is on the road to recovery thanks to the quick work of locals and volunteers.