This month, the Wildlife Center of Virginia admitted its 80,000th patient since the center’s founding in 1982.

According to the center, the patient — a young female opossum found in the pouch of her deceased mother, along with her eight siblings — was admitted July 6. Center staff say the opossums’ rescuer found the dead mother, likely hit be a vehicle, on a road in Afton.

The nine young opossums were examined, weighed and given fluids before they were set up in an incubator in the center’s ICU room, according to the center. Once healthy, it’s likely the young joeys will be transferred to an at-home wildlife rehabilitator or smaller rehabilitation facility.

According to Amanda Nicholson, the Wildlife Center of Virginia’s director of outreach, the staff had always said that the Eastern cottontail rabbit had been the most frequently admitted animal at the South Delphine Avenue facility. But that appears to be changing.

Opossums are now the most numerous species admitted to the Wildlife Center, which treats hundreds of baby opossums, mostly found in the pouches of their deceased mothers. Adult opossums are often hit by vehicles, which may prove fatal for the mother while leaving the babies uninjured but in need of help, according to the center.

“Last year, the Virginia opossum outranked them for the species most admitted,” Nicholson said, noting that 414 opossums were brought in during 2018 compared to the high 300s for cottontails. “We seem like we’re on that same track this year.”

The change may be more than a statistical anomaly. Education efforts by the Wildlife Center seem to be paying off, Nicholson said.

The center has been telling the public not to assume that baby cottontails left alone in their nests have been abandoned by their mothers. In fact, Nicholson said, it’s almost never the case with many animals.

“When people find [rabbits], they don’t see mom right there and think, ‘Oh, no, they’re orphans,’ and bring them to us,” she said.

To counteract this, the center has had an ongoing educational effort to let the public know they should not bother young rabbits or most any other baby animal they come across.

Rabbits, Nicholson said, leave their young for long periods of time as they graze for food.

“There’s no need to pick them up, no need to bring them to us,” she said.

Mother opossums on the other hand stay with their young until they are old enough to be left on their own.

“If people do find an adult opossum that has been hit by a car, we ask them to carefully check on that situation,” Nicholson said.

In quite a few instances, people will bring in as many as 10 or 11 baby opossums found safe in their dead mother’s pouch, she said.

During its nearly four decades coming to the aid of injured wild animals, the center has cared for more than 200 species of native birds, mammals, reptiles and amphibians, while sharing the lessons learned from cases with some 1.5 million schoolchildren and adults across Virginia, according to the Wildlife Center of Virginia website.

While the bulk of the critters brought to the center come from within an hour’s drive, a number of animals are brought specifically because it has a full-time veterinary staff and the capability to do so.

“We do get animals from all corners of the state,” Nicholson said. “We’re able to receive some wild animals that other facilities cannot receive. For instance, we can treat black bears. Typically, we admit a couple dozen bears a year.”

Bald eagles from Hampton Roads and Northern Virginia also find their way to the Waynesboro facility for care, as well as bog turtles, a state-threatened species in Virginia, Nicholson said.

To honor the milestone 80,000th patient admission, the Wildlife Center of Virginia created a T-shirt noting “80,000 patients, 200 species, 1 hospital.” Although most of the shirts were pre-ordered, Nicholson said the nonprofit center ordered more, so supporters may still be able to buy one.

For more information about the Wildlife Center of Virginia, visit www.wildlifecenter.org.

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