Rescue, Rehabilitation and Release of the Ringtail Possum
Ringtail Possum: Rescue, Rehabilitation and Release(Pseudocherius peregrinus)
Pseudocherius peregrinus meaning ‘false-hand from foreign parts’ on account
of its tail.
This is a very agile creature that lives in high trees and uses its long white tipped
prehensile tail for gripping branches while climbing as well as for carrying nesting
materials. It has a soft, high-pitched twittering call.
Appearance, Size and Weight
Ringtail Possums are easily identified by their
sparsely furred tail which is white for the last 1/3 to the tip. Long whiskers
make them look like rodents and some people actually mistake them for rats.
Sometimes this tip can be a dirty off-white colour. Their prehensile tail is very
important because it is used as a fifth hand whilst climbing and for carrying
The Ringtail Possums are generally shyer, quieter and smaller than their larger
cousins. A medium sized Ringtail Possum with average weight of around
Females: 600; Males: 950 grams with adult males being larger than adult females.
Ears are short and rounded with a whitish tuft of fur on the lower part of the ear.
The cheek area has a cream, pale or even white patch of fur. The fur is short and
thick and colour varies from light grey to rufus brown to almost black.
Limbs, even on darker Ringtail Possums, usually have a rufus tinge.
Lower body ranges from white to amber, sometimes even a bright rufus brown.
Like Brushtail Possums, Ringtail Possums have learnt to live in domestic
surroundings such as cities and surrounding suburbs. They can be found from
Cape York (Qld) through the eastern seaboard down to Tasmania and across to
Ringtail Possums occupy a variety of habitats from rainforest to sclerophyll
forests as long as these habitats contain a well developed under-story.
Ringtail Possums spend much of their time in trees..
They build a sphere shaped nest called a drey made out of shredded fibrous bark,
leaves, twigs and bracken interwoven into leaves of Turpentine, Eucalypt trees,
privet hedges and Banksias.
Some build nests inside roller doors and amongst urban gardens.
They also build nests inside hollow branches of trees.
Like all possums, they retain more than one home.
Ringtail Possums are territorial and usually solitary. However, males and females
are known to regularly visit each other. Males will defend their territory from
other males and the size of territory depends on the availability of food and shelter.
Communication is through smell and sound.
Their high pitched twittering call can easily be mistaken for a bird call.
Being largely solitary, be careful when introducing Ringtail Possums as they
can be quite nasty to each other. However, they do better if they have company.
When in care, they have been known to lunge at their keepers, especially if
females have young. Females can be just as aggressive as males.
Females share their nests with their young and also carry them around on their
back, once they leave the pouch stage at around 4 months.
When they are too heavy or she has to travel further for food, she leaves
them in the nest.
Reproduction and Infant Life
In captive environment, male Ringtail Possums reach sexual maturity at around
12 months of age while females mature earlier. These creatures are marsupials,
meaning they nurture their infants in their natural body pouch.
Breeding or birthing season extends from March to November when a litter of
1, 2 or 3 young is born. The gestation period is not known even though they have
been bred in captivity.
The young are underdeveloped when born. They make their way to the mother’s
pouch, and hold onto a teat. Ringtail Possums have four teats, and are capable of
raising quadruplets, but the average litter size is two.
Joeys emerge from their mother’s pouch at around 3 to 4 months of age.
Thereafter, they ride on the back of their mother, still drinking her milk as well
as eating solids. They are weaned by the time they are 6 – 9 months.
A furred ringtail joey has a better chance of survival than a furless one.
Joeys start to open their eyes when they weigh about 40 grams.
Ringtail joeys are black, not pink, and are more delicate than brushtails.
Some caregivers have raised them from very small sizes, but it takes much
dedication to do so.
In the wild, females leave their young in the nest while they go foraging.
Males (presumed father) have been known to baby-sit the out-of-pouch young
when the mother travels around for food.
Ringtail Possums are delicate creatures when young, and stress can lead to sudden
death. They must not be handled by small children or held as you would hold a
kitten. Ringtail joeys do much better in pairs or in small groups called colonies.
When a baby or adult, comes into care it may be cold and it will be in shock.
Do not attempt to feed it in this condition. Warm it gently, either with your own
body heat or a hot water bottle.
An adult needs three things in this situation – heat, dark and quiet.
A human-made drey is perfect for an adult Ringtail Possum to rest.
Put one side of the drey against a heat source (warm only) leaving enough
space for the animal to be able to move away from the heat.
All babies that come into care need to be put into a firm (not tight) pouch of
cotton or flannelette. A clean cotton sock can work as a makeshift pouch.
Warm and more responsive babies need to be rehydrated as most will be
dehydrated. If its skin does not go down back to its original place when lightly
squeezed, the animal is dehydrated. Use spark or lactate to rehydrate.
To counteract shock, you can use:
· Rescue Remedy: a couple of drops of Rescue Remedy in the mouth will help
calm the animal. This remedy is available from Health Food Shops
· Arnica: 6 cc every 3-4 hours
Rescuing a joey from its mother’s pouch
In case of a roadkill, check the pouch. Also look out if a second or even a third
ringtail joey is in the vicinity.
If the baby is still attached to the teat, DO NOT PULL IT OFF.
This damages the joey’s palate, and the baby will eventually die.
First, check if the mother is dead. Then, place a safety pin or paper clip
THROUGH the skin of the teat above the baby’s mouth.
The mother is dead and will not feel the pain and their will be no bleeding
as a dead animal does not bleed.
Cut the teat from the mother, making sure you cut the teat as close to the
mammary gland as possible. The baby will eventually (in around 2-3 hours)
come off the teat itself.
1. Put your fingers between the joey and the pouch lining and cut with a pair of
blunt edge scissors
2. Spread the pouch open so you can examine the joeys
3. Manoeuvre the joey out of the pouch, careful not to pull on their legs, tail,
heads etc. In this case, the joeys have been in their mother for a long time and
had already spat out the teats
4. Turn the cotton pouch inside out and rub inside the mothers pouch to
get the scent of her on it. This keeps the joeys less stressed
Upbringing Growth and Development
· 42 days: joeys weigh 20 grams. Its little lungs are not fully formed.
A joey this size cannot be saved.
· 95-110 days: weighs 45-60 grams. Eyes are opening, fur is starting to appear.
The survival rate of un-furred Ringtail Possums is poor. In care joeys need 3-hourly
feeds. They consume only 1 ml of milk per 24 hours
· 115 days: weigh 60-80 grams. The baby must be kept warm,
but not continuously confined as they start exploring.
In care, feed milk 5 times a day. Offer about 60 grams of native foliage a day,
2 mls per feed. Ringtail Possums prefer foliage to any other food
· 125 days: weigh 80-100 grams. offer heat even if the joey is newly
rescued to reduce shock. Joeys now need more room to investigate.
A Cockatoo cage safely wired with small bird wire is a good place to hang
the pouch. In care, 3 feeds a day, 5 ml per feed. Native foliage is a MUST
· 170 days: Weigh 100-150 grams. New babies into care still need heat for the
first 24-48 hours. After that, a healthy baby should generate its own heat. .
Feed 5 ml per feed to a 100 gram joey 3 times a day. Feed 15-25 ml per feed
to a 150 gram joey 1 time a day. In both cases, the joey should be lapping
· 180 days: weigh 150-200 grams. New in-care joeys may need heating.
Joey should be lapping milk –leave one feed of milk for the night.
Native foliage such as soft new Eucalypt tips, buds, flowers, callistemon,
Grevilleas, Leptospermum, Melaleuca, Acacia and local native vegetation is
helpful. Good age to buddy up if single
· 190 days: weighs 240-320 grams. Snout to rump 22cm / tail length 26cm.
You can feed milk once a day late in the afternoon. At this age, it may be weaned.
So, feed milk at a location where they can lap it without seeing you.
Fresh water and an adult diet of new tips and native flowers are essential
· 200 days: weighs 350-420 grams. Snout to rump 24cm / tail length 30cm.
Offer native flora and fruits such as apple, pear, rockmelon, a few grapes, corn
niblets, and carrot can be offered. Provide protein supplement of 2 grams per
100 grams of fruit, once they are off milk. Cut fruits into small pieces or it will
fall to the ground and the Ringtail Possum is not comfortable feeding on the ground
· 8 months: weigh 520-580 grams. Snout to rump 25 cm / tail length 31 cm.
From now onwards, you can group them together and start the process of their
· 9 months: weigh 580-630 grams. Snout to rump 26 cm / tail length 32 cm
· 10 months: weigh 670-720 grams. Snout to rump 27 cm / tail length 33 cm
· 11 months: weigh 680-760 grams. Snout to rump 28 cm / tail length 34 cm
· 12 months (mature): weigh 850-1030 grams. Snout to rump 30-32 cm / tail
length 36 cm
Before we get into the dos, here are the don’ts that can kill your joey:
· Never feed cow milk to any marsupial
· Do not neglect native foods – foraging for native branches is part of your
commitment to being a caregiver
· Do not offer Azalea, Oleander, Pepper Tree and Allemande, these are
poisonous for possums
The Digestive System
More fastidious than the Brushtail, the Ringtail Possum’s digestive system is
much more complex, very similar to a koala. The digestive tract has a greatly
enlarged and complex caecum that, along with good bacteria, helps assist in the
breaking down (fermentation) of food.
It can survive on a fibrous diet because it can retain most of the nutrition from
eucalyptus leaves. The Ringtail Possum eats special soft pellets/faeces
(coprophagy). These are different from the hard dry pellets produced at night.
These special soft pellets are produced during daytime and eaten by the ringtail
while being curled up in a ball. When absorbed through the digestive system for
the second time, it produces more nutrients.
Their native diet consists mainly of Eucalypt leaves, flowers, native fruit, tea tree,
callistemon wattles and Grevilleas. They also have a fondness for roses, non
native fruit and plants and have been known to ring bark lemon trees.
FEEDING JOEYS IN CARE
Ringtail joeys that are first admitted into care need careful handling. Joeys less
than 60 grams, need extra care. Place the baby in a pouch, and gently warm it to
an ambient temperature of 28 to 32 0C. Depending on the joey’s temperament,
you can feed it with a syringe, bottle or a spoon.
Ringtail Possums will need to be fed a special milk formula.
There are three brands of formulas in Australia, all of which provide a low-lactose
milk diet. These include:
The <0.8 Possum Milk Replacer is for joeys with less than 80% of their pouch
life completed i.e. younger joeys that have not yet emerged from pouch, are
furless or have fine fur, eyes closed to just opened, and ears drooped.
The >0.8 Possum Milk Replacer is for joeys with over 80% of their pouch life
completed i.e. older joeys emerging from pouch, short soft to dense long fur,
eyes open, and ears erect.
Offer native foliage and flowers with milk from when the joey weighs around
80 grams. As the baby grows older, stop the mid-evening feed and offer foliage
and flowers instead. Ringtail Possums prefer native and are particularly fond of
Cadagi, a type of eucalyptus tree.
Do not collect the foliage/browse from the roadside for it could be poisoned by
lead from traffic pollution. Wash the foliage/browse and soak it in water before
feeding it to the joey. This keeps the foliage/browse fresh and clean.
Replace it every day or every second day, depending on how fresh it is.
Ringtail Possums can do acrobats while foraging for food and it is a good idea
to put the food in hard to reach areas to teach your Ringtail Possums.
Training your Ringtail Possums to stretch for hard to reach blossoms will hold
them in good stead in the wild.
All possums, like people, have individual tastes. You will have to experiment
until you find what your joey will eat. Sometimes they refuse a food when they
are little, then love it when they are older!
The following native foliage is particularly helpful:
· Eucalyptus torelliana (Cadaghi)
· E. ptychocarpa (Swamp Blood wood)
· E.curtisii (Plunkett Mallee)
· E. tereticornis (Forest Red Gum)
· E.camadulensis (River Red Gum)
· Grevillea (leaves and flowers)
· Calliandra (Pom Pom) (leaves and flowers)
· Rose (petals and leaves)
· Lilly Pilly (leaves, fruit and flowers)
· Mango (leaves, fruit and flowers)
· Plumbago (flowers)
· Crepe Myrtle (flowers)
· Bottlebrush (leaves and flowers)
· Mulberry (leaves, fruit and flowers)
When in the pouch, the mother licks their genital area to stimulate defecation or
urination. This also keeps the pouch clean. Now, you are the mother. Hold the baby
firmly in one hand, and using a tissue, tickle the area around the cloacae, and baby
will release wastes.
A joey needs to be thus stimulated for EVERY urination or defecation.
Over-stimulation can cause damage.
A baby that comes first into your care may not poop or pee too much,
as it may be dehydrated. As the joey grows older, it will do this by itself.
Do not be overly concerned if your baby does not defecate as they will be
‘papping’ - producing soft poos which they will eat.
Ringtail Possums have a day time faeces and a night time faeces.
Baby Ringtail Possums often ‘pap’ i.e. re-ingest the daytime faeces to produce
the useful bacteria in their guts. They do not produce as much scats as joeys of
other possums do until they are more independent in a cage. When they starts
to toilet on their own, your job in that area is done!
Buddying and Housing
Buddying is essential, because Ringtail Possums do well in groups.
Ringtail Possums should be buddied-up before they are placed into the
release aviary. Just like Brushtails, care and observation is important for the
well being of the possum. If one is found out of the box, remove it and raise it
separately if possible.
If your ringtail appears jittery and nervous, it may be in the need of a partner.
Sex does not matter when placing young Ringtail Possums together but they
should be around the same age and weight. Sometimes such buddies may not
be of the same age. In this case, the youngest joey has to be of 550 grams at least.
Do watch out for signs of one clinging onto the others fur for security (clingons).
This causes stress and could cause an injury and even death to the baby joey being
Wild young should be checked for mites and should be lapping and eating before
introducing to others. Do not house wild Ringtail Possums with hand reared ones
as the wild one will be more dominant and 'bush wise'.
Place the to-be-buddied joeys in a pillowslip or a new clean nest box with new
material during daytime to get them used to each other’s smell.
Have separate feeding areas for the joeys and add new fresh foliage during daytime.
If Ringtail Possums are part of a litter, they should remain together.
If you have 3 and another comes along, you can pair it by taking one out of the
three if the latter is healthy. There can be problems introducing a single possum
with three acquainted ones.
They should settle in very quickly.
To introduce Ringtail Possums to others, a larger and covered cage is
recommended (cover with shade cloth). This allows the Ringtail Possums to
acclimatize before it goes into the release aviary. Watch out for outside
temperatures. If it is snowing or there is a heat wave bring the cage inside.
A stuffed toy (mother) tied to a branch, helps the Ringtail Possums to feel
secure and they can cling to it between explorations during the night.
Place fresh branches for climbing and chewing with a variety of foliage in
small vase-like plastic containers. A nest box or two (cage size and number of
Ringtail Possums depends on how many) with a woollen beanie allows joeys to
snuggle in and keep warm.
Clean food containers every day and place water in a shallow dish.
Cover the whole cage with nylon shade cloth for privacy.
This makes the possum feel secure and you can view them through the shade
cloth without disturbing them. It also keeps the flies away from the food.
Do not handle joeys from about 190 days weighing 240-320 grams.
They should have already been buddied and housed in a cockies cage of
suitable size with shade cloth covering it and placed outside under cover.
Take care while introducing them to an established colony, for they may not
Release Before you release a Ringtail Possum, you need to find a suitable
release site. If you can soft release i.e. gradually release them from an avairy
with support feeding, it is that much better. A Ringtail Possum needs a couple of
weeks in an aviary at the place it is going to be released, to accustom it to the
noise and smells of the area.
Release weight for a ringtail varies with the animal.
The standard age for soft release from the aviary is when the smallest of the
colony reaches 550 gram. This is when the age of the Ringtail Possum is about
At this point, it is time to introduce your Ringtail Possum to the world outside
the aviary where it will be eventually make itself home. Take the joeys outside and
hold them until they are bold enough to leave you and explore the aviary on their
own. This takes around 2 weeks.
Leave the joeys in the aviary by themselves for about an hour to start with.
However, it is wise to stay around. Do this each day, gradually increasing the time.
When you feel, they are comfortable without you, leave them alone for a night.
Make sure you check them first thing in the morning.
How do you Soft Release?
Sonya Stanvic answers: “I open the release hatch and watch from a distance;
I do not interfere with them even if they look like they are a bit clumsy.
The claws may be a little blunt from scraping them on the wire and metal.
Once they get the hang of 'freedom' they go a little crazy or become hesitant in
the 'big' space. This is when they are most vulnerable to predators because they
have not yet developed bush skills. Soft releasing allows animals to gain bush
skills but also gives them a safe house to come back to if they should need it.
They usually return every night from their explorations for up to a week,
I leave a small amount of food in the aviary, but only if they are in their box.
I make sure the local Brushtail Possums are not raiding the food dish.
After a week they may visit once or twice and then they are on their own.
I lock the aviary up once the Ringtail Possums stop returning, or the locals may
decide to treat the empty aviary as a bed and breakfast!
Beverley Clarke answers: The animals are released by opening the door, and
allowing them to choose when they will come and go. Adult Ringtail Possums
may decide to go out for the night and return to sleep in their own drey and they
will often do this for a few weeks. After a few nights, I hang the drey out in a tree
near the aviary. Ringtail Possums scent-mark their trails, so they can usually find
their way home! For the first few nights, I still supplement feed by putting native
branches in the aviary. Eventually, when the Ringtail Possums decide not to
return home, I still leave the door open for 5 days, to give the option of a safe haven.
After that, I put feed on top of the aviary in case it is needed, for about a week.
Then they are on their own. I let my neighbours know that I am releasing, so that
if my animal ends up in their yard, they can call me.
This way, everyone looks out for my babies!
Do not give antibiotics by mouth as it will upset and unbalance their gut flora.
If antibiotics are specified by a vet, make sure that only injectable antibiotics