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Over the years, the caretakers at the Southern Plains Wildlife Rehabilitation Center (SPWRC) in Lubbock, Texas, have sheltered hundreds of species of orphaned and injured animals, ranging from birds to reptiles. However, the hairless baby opossum, dropped off at the center in mid-October by a concerned resident, was unlike any animal they had encountered before.
SPWRC executive director Gail Barnes says, "When I was bringing the box back in, an arm came out of the box, and I thought, 'Oh my gosh, it’s a hairless cat. I opened it up, and it was an opossum."'
The four-month-old female opossum, most likely abandoned by its mother due to its condition, was underweight and suffering from hypothermia and had to be instantly placed into an incubator. Under the loving care of the SPWRC staff, who fed her delectable snacks like crickets, mealworms, cottage cheese, applesauce, and yogurt, the infant gradually began to gain weight and recover.
A closer examination revealed that the opossum suffered from alopecia — a rare condition where the body's immune system mistakenly attacks hair follicles, resulting in hair loss. While the disease, which also occurs in humans, is not a big deal for some, it is life-threatening for the marsupials, who rely on their fur to keep warm.
Realizing the animal would need some clothing to survive the winter months, the center reached out to the public through social media. To their delight, fans instantly responded. “I've had so many phone calls, and people on our Facebook page are making it wardrobes. They're knitting sweaters. People with hairless cats are donating their cats' clothing when they were kittens. So it's going to have a complete wardrobe,” Barnes said.
With stylish clothing pouring in daily, the yet-to-be-named opossum will undoubtedly be the rehabilitation center's best dressed animal. Once she is fully recovered, the fashionista will join SPWRC's educational program, which teaches kids about different birds and mammals. "She will become an educational ambassador," said Barnes. "Once we're able to go back into schools, she will be incorporated into our educational program. Possums are the only marsupial in North America, and with her not having fur, you'll be able to see her pouch in the front, which educates people about marsupials."
Opossums are the largest marsupials from the order Didelphimorphia. Endemic to the Western Hemisphere, the animals are often considered pests and held responsible for everything — from knocking over garbage cans to killing chickens. However, experts say the quiet marsupials, who play dead when threatened, can be beneficial for the garden, eating snails, slugs, insects, and sometimes even small rodents. Though commonly referred to as possums in North America, they are a different species from the Australian possums, which are more closely related to kangaroos.
Resources: NPR.com, Today.com