As Melbourne sweltered through late summer temperatures in the mid- to high-30s and bushfires raged in the east of Victoria, on the Mornington Peninsula Ringtail Possums showed what climate disruption was started doing to our native wildlife which cannot cope with a string of high temperature days — just as happened with flying foxes and other arboreal species in the north.
THIS WEEKEND WILDLIFE rescuers, wildlife shelters, vets and community members alike witnessed the terrible suffering of ringtail possums as they struggled to cope with the relentless temperatures that occurred over several days. Many possums simply dropped out of their nests unable to survive the scorching heat, others made their way into the sea trying desperately to cool down.
Tree-dwelling natives do need to drink water on very hot days
Mass deaths were reported by rescuers along the waterline on Somers Beach and similar animals could be found on the Capel Sound foreshore, Fingal and Gunnamatta beaches, along streets in Mount Martha, along the Frankston Freeway and scores more hit and killed on the roads throughout the peninsula.
What can we do?
Many people think native tree-dwellers either don’t need to drink or will find water somewhere else. But in a heatwave it is important to leave shallow dishes of water out in your garden for local wildlife, if necessary for on tree platforms or wedged in tree forks or as a birdbath.
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Keep pets restrained and call wildlife rescuers as needed. If you come across a Ringtail Possum or any tree-dweller on the ground due to heat stress you can place a towel over its head and body (this is calming) and place it in a cardboard box and bring inside.
Place a small dish of water in the box, do not try to force it to drink, and keep it dark and quiet. If the animal seems to have recovered by the evening and the temperature has cooled down, it should be fine to release back where you found it but please ask for advice if unsure.
If you come across a dead possum always check to see if it has young on its back or in the pouch and call for help.
If you come across sick, injured or orphaned wildlife in need of help, please contact your nearest Wildcare or Wires group.
IMAGE: Ringtail Possums gathered from the sea at Somers Beach. Supplied by Author.