By Joanna Fitzgerald | Director of the von Arx Wildlife Hospital
The von Arx Wildlife Hospital is open 365 days a year from 8am – 8pm. Part of and located at the Conservancy of Southwest Florida, call 239-262-2273 for wildlife assistance.
A Virginia opossum, her seven joeys, and a nestling mourning dove were among the seventy-four animals admitted to the von Arx Wildlife Hospital at the Conservancy of Southwest Florida this past week. Other admissions include a black-and-white warbler, a herring gull, a cedar waxwing, a yellow-breasted chat (first record of this species admitted to our facility), three big brown bats and a gopher tortoise.
Pregnant Opossum Involved in a Car Strike
Hospital staff received reports of an injured opossum late one afternoon; several people saw the opossum on the side of the road, yet no one was willing to offer assistance. Two Conservancy interns volunteered to go to the scene to rescue the opossum since they had just finished their shift at the von Arx Wildlife Hospital.
The opossum was a mother with seven joeys in her pouch. The opossum was defensive, as any mother would be, even though she had suffered significant injuries from a vehicle strike. The opossum received a sedative, so the staff vet could do a full physical exam.
The opossum was in lateral recumbency (unable to rise from lying on her side) and she had a laceration on her right forearm that was severely infected. The opossum had an open fracture of the jaw that was teaming with fly larvae; she had fleas and was very thin.
Seven joeys were removed from her pouch; each weighing less than three grams. At such an early stage of development, the joeys were too underdeveloped to safely rehabilitate and due to the mother opossum’s extensive injuries, humane euthanasia was our only option.
While we couldn’t save the opossum and her joeys, there was some solace knowing she wasn’t going to continue to suffer on the side of the road.
Protect the Opossums
It is currently opossum breeding season; this was one of two mother opossums and joeys admitted last week.
Please, if you see an opossum on the side of the road, check to see if it is truly dead and/or if it is mom with live babies.
If you do see live babies clinging to their dead mother, bring the mom and her babies to the hospital; staff can remove the babies from the mother’s pouch and provide the care they need.
If the mother is alive and injured, place her in a ventilated box and bring her to the hospital. Containing an opossum is surprisingly easier than you may imagine because opossums often ‘play dead’ as a defensive behavior meaning they lie still and don’t attempt to flee.
Cover the opossum with a towel and place a box on its side next to the opossum then use a broom or shovel and gently slide her into the box. Once the opossum is in the box, slowly turn the box upright and securely tape it closed. Always call the von Arx Wildlife Hospital if you have questions or need further guidance.
Baby Mourning Dove Kept in Human Care
The nestling mourning dove was admitted after being kept for three days; the person who found the dove on the ground originally went to a pet store where pet store staff recommended various items to purchase to care for the dove.
Three days later, the dove’s “rescuer” brought the baby to the wildlife hospital after the dove began to weaken. The dove was in terrible condition upon admission. The nestling dove had suffered multiple wounds when it fell from the tree; without proper medical attention or antibiotics, the wounds became infected.
Baby doves eat by putting their beak inside their parent’s mouth and feed on a special ‘crop milk’ the parents produce. There is no way for a person to replicate that feeding behavior, so not only was the nestling suffering from its wounds, it was starving.
While staff began treatment, the dove was too debilitated and did not survive.
The suffering the dove endured was preventable.
I understand people have good intentions when assisting wildlife, but the first thought should be getting the animal professional help, not to go to the pet store and try to care for it at home. Wounded animals feel pain and suffer and injuries require pain medication and wound management.
The nutritional replacement formulas used at the wildlife hospital are made specifically for wildlife; most pet store products are inadequate and don’t meet the nutritional needs for wild animals. Equally important to keep in mind is that it is illegal to raise injured and orphaned native wildlife without appropriate state and federal permits.
If you find an animal you believe is injured, sick or orphaned, please do not attempt to care for it yourself. Wild animals require care from professionals with experience and knowledge working with wildlife. Call our wildlife hospital; we will do everything we possibly can because the animal’s well-being is our top priority.
A chuck-will’s-widow, an atala butterfly, two big brown bats, a Florida box turtle, an eastern screech owl, a royal tern, four eastern cottontails, nine brown pelicans, a cattle egret, a red-shouldered hawk, a peninsula cooter, an eastern bluebird, two double-crested cormorants, a northern cardinal, a turkey vulture, a gopher tortoise and two raccoons were released this past week.
Opportunities to Help
Please visit our website at to learn about the work done by Conservancy of Southwest Florida staff and volunteers. Get involved; your volunteer time, memberships and donations are vital and help us continue our work to protect Southwest Florida’s water, land, wildlife and future.
Joanna Fitzgerald is Director of the von Arx Wildlife Hospital at the Conservancy of Southwest Florida. Call 239-262-2273 or see conservancy.org.