The National Zoo has announced that it welcomed a new resident earlier in the summer, and it has now been named an ambassador for its species.
Basil, a Virginia opossum, also known as a North American opossum, came to the zoo from the local wildlife rehabilitation centre in Washington, DC, City Wildlife, after being rehabilitated from a predator attack, in which he lost one of his eyes, according to a 2 September press release. Basil was placed in the National Zoo’s Small Mammal House after the centre deemed him unreleasable and decided he would not survive long in the wild with his eyesight.
The zoo has said that, in the limited time Basil has spent at his new home, he is “adjusting very well”. He is starting to interact with the zoo’s employees, as well as actively exploring his exhibit at night since he is nocturnal.
“When we interact with him, we’ve learned that he is curious, mellow and very much enjoys being cosy!” the zoo wrote about him in the press release. “Basil especially loves his fleece blankets and finding a spot in his logs to get curled up – if you don’t see him right away, that’s the first place to look!”
Although mostly adjusting well, there are still some aspects of living in a zoo that Basil is working on becoming comfortable with. For example, the zoo wrote in the press release that “enrichment is new for him, so he is hesitant to interact with items and is still learning”. Part of this includes Basil getting used to being fed with tongs by the zookeepers.
Despite being in a sheltered environment, the zoo still encourages Basil to lean into the natural instincts that he would need in the wild. One of his favourite items in his exhibit are his “forage bins,” according to the zoo.
“The foraging bins recreate the foraging behaviours opossums would utilise in the wild,” the press release read. “He uses his sense of smell and his feet to dig and search for the food inside the bins. We will also hang the bins in the exhibit when he is settled in more, so he is encouraged to climb and forage up higher as well!”
Because the zoo will be Basil’s permanent home, the zoo is hoping that he will not only have a “comfortable life” but also that he will help zoo visitors learn more about opossums. “It’s exciting to have a species that people may see in their own backyard,” the press release read. “It’s crucial for our visitors to understand why it’s so important to protect our local wildlife just as much as the wildlife around the planet.”
The zoo wrote that, despite the Virginia opossum not being endangered, it’s important to remember that all species were of concern for becoming endangered at one time. The zoo also mentioned how important it is to be aware of current endangered species, as well as species that are not currently endangered, and the preventative measures taken before they reached endangered status.
“It is still important for us to be aware of species that are currently not threatened, so that we can protect existing wild populations.”