At this moment I can hear a possum slithering about in the ceiling. There is a gap of about 15 cm between the iron roof and the sissilation tacked to the underside of the roof purlins to act as insulation, the possums, antechinus, snakes and other little critters use this space as living area. Our possums are part of the family; a sometimes annoying and destructive part of the family, but still family.
Many years ago we raised orphan possums and released them. That was at our previous abode though, we have raised none of our current possum neighbours. In the process of raising them we learned to love their individual personalities, their zest for life and their cheeky nature. I have come to believe that possums may replace cats as a stand-offish, independent yet demanding house pet.
The Brush-tailed possum is not rare or endangered, they are one of the few species of native animal that has been able to adapt and thrive in human company. They are found over almost all of Australia (and unfortunately in New Zealand) and are known to raid fruit trees in domestic gardens, they will also raid inside houses if they can get in.
Most internet sites will tell you they sleep all day, I guess this is true if they aren’t disturbed, in our humpy they sleep most of the day with a break for the toilet in there somewhere and often an argument about who sleeps where if there are more than one in the roof space. When they fight, they make sounds like pigs squealing, grunts and loud screeching. At night we sometimes have a little visitor come into the humpy in search of food and I have learned not to leave dishes soaking in the sink.
Most people in our area regard the humble possum as nothing but a pest and will moan and complain about having them in the roof space. They are problematic at times; they break into the garden and chook pen to eat seedlings and food scraps, they sleep in the roof and sometimes do not make it to the eaves to pee (not my favourite trait), they hunt baby birds in nests around the humpy and they are not above stealing eggs from under a setting chook during the night. I know they are annoying, but they are also very sweet and affectionate to their friends, are very beautiful to look at and they belong here as native animals and as such help maintain the balance of nature. Besides, they are only trying to survive in a world we have changed for them.
Without possums we would not have as many funny stories to tell visitors; there was the time a baby was left in the yard by his mum (who was probably raiding the chook pen) and the dogs found him. We picked him up (our dogs are trained to stand back and bark) and took him inside while we searched for his mum around the house. We couldn’t find her, so we put the baby in a warm box with water and an apple for the night. In the morning the baby was gone and there was a hole in the box. We found him eventually in a desk draw that had been left half open, curled up asleep. We were fairly sure his mum was in the roof as we had heard her calling in the early hours of the morning from there, so we took a gamble on there only being her in there as anyone other than the mother will kill a baby alone. My partner got the ladder and I climbed up to the roof clutching a baby possum wrapped in a towel and popped him into the roof space. Then we waited to hear the result. There was some snuffling and grunting, but no screaming, so all was good.
We have had possums fall through the sissilation (it can only take so much weight after all), we have had to rescue them from angry geese and ducks in the middle of the night, we have returned lost babies and feed old or sick individuals when they needed it. Yes…they are family, because even though they are destructive, they are also loved. I just wish I could train them to go to the toilet outside.