Western Ringtail Possum Conservation Credit Tim Campbell

Foxes, habitat loss and more cars on the roads have nearly wiped out the Western Ringtail Possum, but a new soft toy is helping raise awareness and funds.

Buy a plush possum toy at the local visitor centre and you can help conservation efforts for these critically endangered marsupials.

Name: Western Ringtail Possum
Pet Hate: Foxes!
Favourite food: Your rose garden
Naughtiest deed: Playing chicken on the road
Obsession: New peppermint leaves

Western Ringtail Possum Conservation Credit Tim Campbell

About Western Ringtail Possums

The Western Ringtail Possum, or ngwayir, is a smallish, critically endangered possum found only in southwest Western Australia, roughly from Mandurah to Albany. You can tell them apart from the common brushtail possum by their smaller size and thin, white-tipped prehensile tail which is useful for holding food or branches as it climbs and leaps through peppermint trees.

Destruction of the forests they call home, predators such as foxes, domestic cats and dogs and road strike are responsible for the possum’s decline, and only 5,000-8,000 Western Ringtail Possums are estimated to remain in the wild.

Western Ringtail Possum Conservation Credit Tim Campbell

Soft Toys to Fund Conservation

Not only are they a sweet gift, but the soft toys also help start a conversation with kids about why it’s important to keep our pets indoors at night. Follow it up with a torchlight possum stalk amongst groves of peppermint trees; you’re sure to see a few possums at night. Geocatch and Nature Conservation Margaret River often run these twilight tours.

The soft toys are $29.95 at the Busselton and Margaret River Visitor Centres thanks to a regional partnership between the Margaret River Busselton Tourism Association and the Western Ringtail Action Group (WRAG). $10 from each toy goes to possum conservation projects, like creating a ‘go to’ possum rehabilitation manual for local veterinary clinics.

“Our local veterinarians are providing their expertise at no charge and often in their own time outside of normal operating hours,” said Felicity Bradshaw, chair of GeoCatch. “This resource will hopefully help vet staff contribute to successful welfare and rehabilitation outcomes for Western Ringtail Possums.”

Western Ringtail Possum Conservation Credit Tim Campbell

Possum Finishing School

So, where do the sick, injured and orphaned possums go? To Possum Finishing School, of course! It’s a special spot where rescued Western Ringtail Possums grow strong and healthy and learn all the life skills a possum needs. Forty possum enclosures are carefully guarded by Moomoo the bewildered emu and Syd the rescue swan, in a secret forest location.

FAWNA Inc has a team of volunteer wildlife carers who nurse baby possums back to good health, before a spell at the Possum Finishing School where they can gain weight and prepare for a wild release near Gracetown. This project is supported by South West Catchments Council, through funding from the Australian Government’s National Landcare Program. The possum release program also includes the University of Western Australia and the Department of Biodiversity and Conservation.

FAWNA president Suzi Strapp introduced me to Felix, a healthy possum that is getting ready for release in a couple of weeks; “he’ll be radio collared before being released near Gracetown, and we’ll follow him for up to three months before taking the collar off”. Felix arrived weighing 100g – as much as a chocolate bar – and is now a whopping 600g.

Western Ringtail Possum Conservation Credit Tim Campbell

Re-wilding Western Ringtail Possums, and Feral Threats

While each possum is given a name they have minimal handling at Possum Finishing School, to help prepare them for life back in the wild. “We’re taking them away from humans and starting to re-wild them, giving them a range of natural foods they’ll eat when released,” says Suzi. “When you hand raise possums they get used to humans as well as dog or cat smells, so here they learn not to interact with humans, to be wild possums rather than urban possums.”

20 possums were released in April, including a set of twins. “We lost ten [of the 20 possums released] which sounds awful, but it’s the best outcome so far,” according to Suzi, and it provides valuable data to a team of researchers. “Indications are that ten possums have been lost to foxes – a DNA swab is taken from the radio collar and tested”.

Suzi has exciting expansion plans to include FAWNA Flight Academy to rehabilitate black cockatoos, and the Kaatijinup Biodiversity Park.

Western Ringtail Possum Conservation Credit Tim Campbell

How We Can Help

Keeping pets secure at night is a big help, according to Nicole Lincoln from GeoCatch; “domestic dogs and cats have a huge impact on the local possums. Even a harmless scratch from a cat can kill a possum quickly from infection.” A dog barking can cause a possum to fall, and if the dog then picks up and plays with the possum, it can be enough to kill it from fright. GeoCatch has been busy promoting the ‘catio’ – a fully enclosed structure that gives cats the freedom to safely enjoy the outdoor elements without harming local wildlife.

You can also include native Australian plants in your garden, that offer food and protection for both the possums and birdlife too. Although rose buds are delicious, possums prefer peppermint leaves, so try to retain existing peppermints or plant new peppy trees on your verge. Nicole also recommends peppermints as possums love using them to build a drey (nest), and jarrah and marri also provide excellent possum food.

If you find an injured or dead possum, always check its pouch for live young, and call FAWNA on 0438 526 660.

Finally, buy a soft possum toy to support Western Ringtail Possum conservation. You’ll find them at the Busselton and Margaret River Visitor Centres.

What to do if you find an injured possum

  • Wrap them in a towel or put them in a box or bag and take them straight to a vet for examination. In most cases the vet will not charge and when able to, will hand them over to a carer for rehabilitation and release.
  • You can also phone FAWNA on 0438 526 660 or the DBCA Wildcare Helpline on (08) 9474 9055. They will put you in touch with the nearest wildlife rehabilitator that can take the animal into care.
Western Ringtail Possum Conservation Credit Tim Campbell