Volunteers help rescue injured mother opossum, babies

Joanna Fitzgerald
Conservancy of Southwest Florida

A Virginia opossum and an osprey were among the 64 animals admitted to the von Arx Wildlife Hospital at the Conservancy of Southwest Florida last week. Other admissions include an Eastern screech owl, a pine warbler, a red-shouldered hawk and a Florida red-bellied turtle.

Staff at the von Arx Wildlife Hospital received a call from a concerned citizen regarding an injured Virginia opossum in a parking lot near her home. There was great concern for the opossum because the animal was struggling to move. Motorists were purposely avoiding the opossum, but no one had stopped to help.

Four baby Virginia opossums cuddle with their mom while she rests in an animal intensive care unit at the von Arx Wildlife Hospital. The mother opossum was found struggling in a parking lot. Injuries indicate she was hit by a car.

Due to limited staff at the hospital, our priority is caring for the patients in hospital. We do not have staff available to dispatch for rescues and transport. If the public is unwilling to help contain and transport an animal to the hospital, our only option is to contact our Volunteer Critter Couriers to see if anyone is available to assist. Most times we can find available volunteers, but it is never a guarantee. There is nothing worse than knowing an animal is suffering and we can’t get it the help it needs.

In this instance hospital staff knew volunteers Tim and Norma Healy lived near the location where the opossum was seen, so they were our first call. Luckily they were available and responded immediately.

An osprey goes for the fish diet offered by von Arx Hospital staff. The osprey was found at a local golf course unable to fly.

By the time the Healys arrived on scene, several off-duty firefighters had parked near the opossum to keep her from being injured by parking lot traffic. The opossum was having difficulty walking, so capture was extremely easy. Tim covered the opossum with a thick towel and gently scooped her up and secured her in a box for transport to the hospital.

The opossum was a female with a pouch full of babies. She was alert and responsive, but she had a noticeable head tilt and nystagmus (involuntary, rapid movement of the eyes), indicating she had suffered head trauma, which was causing the abnormal gait. Our veterinarian administered pain medication, an anti-inflammatory, an antibiotic and electrolytes and placed the mom and her babies in an animal intensive care unit to rest. Since “mom” was alert, we also provided her with a diet and water.

The morning checkup on the opossum family was truly heartwarming. “Mom” was resting comfortable in the intensive care unit. Three of her four babies were clinging to her as they slept. The fourth baby was resting, halfway hidden in her pouch.

The opossum family is continuing to recover in a large indoor enclosure within the hospital.

Finding an injured animal can be stressful and can leave people feeling helpless, not knowing how to respond. Please stay calm, show empathy, and remember the animal is vulnerable and will continue to suffer if someone doesn’t take action and offer assistance.

Stay with the animal to protect it from further injury and call the wildlife hospital for detailed instructions on how to safely contain the animal. Most rescues are simple and straightforward. Be prepared — keep gardener’s gloves, towels, a cardboard box and sunglasses on hand.

Human safety is always the main priority, but I can guarantee you, there are ways to help an animal in need while staying safe in the process.

It is an absolutely amazing feeling of accomplishment when you help another living creature that is suffering. In the case of the opossum, five lives were saved that day.

The osprey was found on a local golf course unable to fly. The bird was weak but had no apparent injuries. One of the most difficult aspects of wildlife rehabilitation is the lack of patient history.

Staff is providing supportive care as the osprey recovers in the bird room at the von Arx Wildlife Hospital. Once stronger, the osprey will be moved to an outdoor recovery flight enclosure until cleared for release.

Recent releases

Four mourning doves, two gray squirrels, 12 Eastern cottontails, two raccoons, a double-crested cormorant, an osprey, a laughing gull, and a big brown bat were released last week. The young river otter being cared for at our facility after she was found orphaned at the Community School was strong enough to be transferred to another facility. “Our” otter joined four other river otters similar in age and will benefit from growing up with conspecifics.

Opportunities to help

Please visit the Conservancy website at to view all of the amazing volunteer opportunities at the Conservancy of Southwest Florida. Your volunteer time, as well as memberships and donations, are vital in helping 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