SPRINGFIELD, Mo. – Summer is near, and so are opossums– venturing into neighborhoods and into the path of motorists. Hitting wildlife can be traumatic, but should drivers take a risk by pulling over to check for young opossums?
“Always stop if there is any chance that animals are still alive. Your intervention could help ensure that they don’t suffer for hours or days in agony,” advised Danny Prater in a 2017 PETA opinion piece that has over 10,000 engagements on Twitter.
The notion to pull over continues to spread across social media, with opossums gaining increased affection from the internet.
“They deserve respect from humans,” said Francis Skalicky, media specialist for the Missouri Department of Conservation (MDC). Skalicky believes opossums do not get the fascination they deserve, as they are the only marsupial in the United States, with unique abilities like immunity to snake venom.
“They date back about 70 million years, well into the time of dinosaurs,” said Skalicky. “One opossum can consume about 5,000 ticks in a year.”
The Ozarks are seeing an opossum population boom this season, due to the marsupials making safe homes with easy access to food in cities. Another contributing factor is a dip in trapping opossums for their pelts, according to the MDC. As more of them settle into urban life, they put themselves at risk of being hit by motorists.
Opossums have a gestation period of about two weeks, then babies must remain in their mother’s pouch to consistently nurse for two months.
“Once they get detached from their mother, they would need immediate care, they can’t be set aside and cared for later,” explained Skalicky. “[Attempting to remove them] wouldn’t work, and as a result, the best course of action is just to let them be and let nature take its course.”
In addition to further stressing the joeys, pulling over on a busy road endangers drivers. If the animal is not dead, it could bite the human to protect its young. The MDC also adds that transporting and caring for wildlife without the proper training and permits is not appropriate.
Skalicky says roadkill is a part of the circle of life, and serves as a food source for other animals such as coyotes and vultures.