A very long tail – and a sad one

We do our best, but sometimes it’s just too late.

Sunday morning we visited friends up the mountain behind our place for tea, cake and chat. On the drive home, I spotted a goanna (lace monitor, Varanus varius), walking up a tree. They make it look so easy! This one was at least 2 metres tip to tail.

Lace monitor demonstrating tree-climbing - helps to have really sharp claws!

We stopped the car, I got out, took the shot and, on the way back to the car, spotted what I thought was a small corpse hanging limply on a barbed-wire fence, with flies buzzing about. Then – oh, horror! – its paw moved. Feebly. I then realised it was still alive, and needed help quickly.

We have always carried an ‘injured wildlife kit’ in the back of the car, since being members of the a wildlife carers group a few years ago. Out with the cardboard box and old bed sheets. Andrew put the box under the creature to support its weight and covered it up with a sheet to reduce stress to the animal as much as possible. He identified it as a greater glider, Petauroides volans and, once I’d got back from telephoning the wildlide carers and had time to look at it, I had to agree.

The greater glider is a beautiful animal. This was the dark form. I didn’t take a photo as I didn’t want to stress it more than necessary, but you can see pics here. They have the softest fur and extraordinarily long tails: the head and body may be 45 cm, and the tail a further 60 cm.

Like the koala, they almost exclusively eat eucalypt leaves – of one or two species only in a particular area – with the indigestible material broken down by bacteria in the elongated gut. They are nocturnal, and spend daylight in hollows in trees. They glide up to 100 metres  from tree to tree to feed. They are silent, unlike other possums (information from the Australian Museum’s “Complete Book of Australian Mammals”). They range from the coast to inland along the east coast of Australia from Melbourne to Cairns in eucalypt forests, but not rainforests.

Gliders, and flying foxes too, often get caught on barbed wire in the farmlands. The wind has been fierce lately, and it’s easy to imagine the glider getting blown onto the barbs and being unable to extract its skin-fold. Cows will walk through anything that isn’t barbed wire, so it’s not likely that farmers, no matter how much they admire native wildlife, will be covering their dozens of kilometres of barbed wire with polypipe any time soon.

I dashed back to our friends’ house and rang the wildlife carers. The volunteer on phone roster found another carer who lived in the vicinity but was in town at that time. Our friend got a fence strainer and wire cutters so that when we cut the barbed wire, it wouldn’t snap back and harm either the glider or ourselves.

We drove carefully down the mountain with the glider in the box, under strict instructions not to feed or water it and to keep it covered up and warm, and the carer phoned us to arrange a rendezvous – vets are open only for an hour on Sundays, so he would have to look after it until Monday morning.

But, alas, half an hour later we got a call that the little one had passed away. It was all just too much for it.

Perhaps if we’d left it there, the goanna would have eaten it. It’s distressing to hope to save such a beautiful creature, and have that hope dashed. Thanks go to the volunteer wildlife carers who acted as fast as they could. They do a mighty job but, despite the best efforts of all, sometimes there’s not a happy ending.

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5 Responses to A very long tail – and a sad one

  1. kathy pearce says:

    Great you took action, Joy. It’s heartening to read how you took charge rather than leave the little creature in pain. And who knows what happens in nature. Maybe we prolong their death, but I think we are using our humanity when we try to be kind.
    I was driving behind a car that ran over a ringtail on a fairly busy road. I stopped and picked it up from the road and placed it on the grass to try to see what damage it had received. The little animal died very quickly – its little heart felt like it had exploded in its tiny body. Sad.

  2. Joy Window says:

    This is the third time we have called the wildlife carers and they have always been brilliant. The first time was for an old, emaciated common brushtail, which had mange and had been beaten up by other possums and was at the end of its life anyway. The kindest thing was euthanasia. The second was a purple swamphen (Porphyrio porphyrio) caught on a barbed-wire fence. The carers came straight away and cut the fence as the bird’s foot was too entangled, and took it to a vet. We then had to go and explain to the farmer that we cut his fence! Fortunately he wasn’t fussed. The carers rang to say that the bird was now healthy and was successfully returned to the same spot (that’s important as relocating often means the animal doesn’t survive, as it doesn’t know its food and water sources and there is usually fierce competition from the same and other species in the new area).

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  4. Oh, this story reminds me of the sad day I found a dead and desiccated flying squirrel, with skin fold caught on a barbed wire fence (here in the USA). It seemed such an unusual set of circumstances. Distressing to hear it apparently happens more often than I’d let myself imagine–in more than one country around the world, too!

    • Joy Window says:

      Ah, poor Rocky the Flying Squirrel. 😦

      I put this in the category of evolutionary pressures such animals face, like finding food and water, reproducing, and avoiding predators, including foxes, dogs and barbed-wire fences. We more often see the bodies of flying foxes swinging on high-tension electric wires. They have rested on one wire, and when they stretch out their wings, they contact another wire, so the electricity runs through them and they get electrocuted. Any babies clinging to females also die. Very sad indeed.

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