This little furball joey was found on the ground after an extreme weather event, I’m told. The teenager who picked him up mistook him for a Mountain brush-tail possum (Bobuck) because of his black coloring.
Housed in a shoebox and kept near the TV, the creature curled up in one corner and refused to move. He trembled a lot. He was offered milk, fruit, flowers and vegetables, all of which ‘Blackjack’ rejected. The teenager force-fed him some warm milk which poured straight into his lungs and out his nose – he also suffered violent bouts of diarrhea. By day 3, he seemed to be near death, the guilt-ridden teenager called wildlife rescue for advice.
One look and I knew Blackjack was not a brush-tail possum at all, although he does belong in that general family. The clue was in the gliding membrane which stretches from elbow to ankles and spreads like a parachute when they glide from treetop to branch. They can glide for up to a hundred meters and change direction as much as 90 degrees while doing so. On the ground they look awkward and walk like Charlie Chaplin.
These marsupials have a highly specialized diet which does not include fruit, flowers or vegetables. They only eat certain Eucalypt species and only on fresh shoots and tips of new leaves. Diet wise they are more Koala than possum having an enlarged caecum (where bacteria breaks down the cellulose of idigestible eucalypt leaves) and eating little else.
Proper housing, diet and care will see Blackjack grow to the size of an adult cat and be returned to the wild. Greater gliders are very private, gentle creatures who do not adapt well to change and can die from the stress of being in a cage. They rarely bite when captured/restrained and settle once covered and wrapped up. They do best in tall, wide cages with a makeshift hollow near the top.
Social structure: I’m told they share a den during breeding season until the young emerge from the pouch (4months). Adult males scent mark their territory by depositing fluid from large anal glands onto branches.
Breeding: Females become sexually mature at two years and produce one baby a year. The joey remains in pouch for around four months/150gr and then gets carried on her back or left in the nest while she forages. The weight of Blackjack suggested he may have lost one third of his body weight in care of the teenager – or perhaps was not found on the ground at all. At nine months, the young leave the nest (dispersal) and find their own hollow to call home.
Habitat: Old trees (Seventy years plus) with hollows in all sorts of forests except rainforests.
Predation: Powerful owls share the same environment with Greater gliders, their favorite snack.
Blackjack was reurned to the location where he was originally ‘found’ some six months after coming into my care. The teenager said he and his friends had been hanging in the area for several days but had seen no sign of a dead mother. Either Blackjack was thrown from her pouch, perhaps after an owl grabbed the mother, or Blackjack had lost a third of his bodyweight before he came into my care.
No other reason for that joey to be out of a pouch at the 100grams he came to me weighing.
Understandably, upon release, Blackjack took off and climbed to the top of the nearest tree before gliding across to another in the distance behind where our torch light couldn’t expose him.
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