Paco, the short-tailed opossum died Saturday, January 21, 2012 while I was away with Max doing an educational exhibition. I knew his health was declining and I checked on him twice daily to make sure he was okay and that his food was being eaten. That morning I did look in and noticed that he had eaten all his fruit I had given him the night before. I feed my opossums at night before going to bed because they are nocturnal and are up wheeling and eating. For the life of me I cannot remember if I looked inside his box to check on him. It is a habit and therefore something I don’t have to try to remember. So often I would check and he was fine sleeping. I would rub his head and talk to him but didn’t want to disturb him too much since I knew he wasn’t feeling well. I see this image of him curled up in his fuzzy ring and him looking up as I stroked his nose. Since this is the last image I have of him, I am sure it is from that morning. Habits die hard. So, last night at 8:30pm I go to give him fresh worms, water and dry food. I popped his shoebox cover to find him still. My beloved Paco. What an amazing animal!
I acquired Paco on September 22, 2008. He was purchased for me by my zoo mentor at an exotic animal auction in Ohio. I knew nothing about short-tailed opossums but was thrilled to learn. He was a small animal measuring 4 inches long including his tail and there was no information about his age. I figured that at least 4-6 months old. The first night he escaped from the wire hamster cage and had crawled under my desk. At 2:00 in the morning I am chasing all the cats out of my room while I try to catch this lightening-fast critter! After that I went with a fish tank with a lid because escape was less likely although it didn’t stop my cats from sitting on the lid looking down upon him. Although small and skitterish, we bonded over mealworms. Yes, I would take tweezers and feed him live mealworms every other night to get him familiar with me. I used tweezers after he missed the worm and bit my finger once. Not his fault as it’s difficult to see past the long snout. For such a small animal he had large testicles. So large that children would notice them dangling as I held him during lectures. Often I would be asked what they were or they noted that Paco had something stuck on him! How do you think I replied to that? I calmly explained that those were his male organs and quickly moved on to other features! He was admired by many children and even adults. He became so calm when being held that I even trusted others to hold him during the touch time portion of my program. I always had the assistant wear gloves because Paco was notorious for pooping and peeing on his holder. He educated at 5 programs last year (2011).
I noticed in March 2011 that his eyes were looking a bit cloudy and cataracts began to form thereafter. Some websites say their lifespan is 6-8 years, but more like 3-4. Paco would have been 4 years old this year. So, I believe this website’s information. Although he had developed cataracts, he was still wheeling, eating and housecleaning. By December 2011, I noticed he was having difficulty getting comfortable in his shoebox, so I enlarged the opening and added a second tank heater for extra warmth. I also noticed that he began to wobble and that he wasn’t wheeling as much. This same behavior was Bella’s in her last month, too. I knew it was only a matter of time for when I would find him gone to the Rainbow Bridge.
This is why in October, I found another short-tailed opossum to take Paco’s place in my educational program. Pedro is very skitterish and I will have to step up our holding time to get him social by the summer. They truly are great pets.
Here are some photos of Paco. There aren’t many of when I first had acquired him because the little dickens wouldn’t hold still and taking photos of a scurrying animal is a bit difficult. In the last year, he had calmed down tremendously and enjoyed being snuggled in my hand.
At his time of death, Paco measured 6.5 inches long with a 3 inch tail. He basically doubled in size from when I got him.
I will miss Paco. My only question is…should I use his skeleton for educational purposes? I don’t have to decide now as the ground is frozen and he won’t be buried until the thaw and then it will take a year for the insects to do their job. I will give it some thought.
Goodbye Paco…you were loved very much.