By Ally Borgelt

Anyone who has met me knows about my love of wildlife. If you have been in one of my workshops you have also no doubt heard me talking about the orphaned ringtail possums that I’ve been looking after.

In my time working with schools, I’ve found that schools are good at planting native gardens and creating butterfly gardens or lizard lounges. Here are some other simple projects or things that you can do to help look after the wildlife in your local area: nest boxes, providing water on hot days, making sure your fruit netting wont trap wildlife and making possum or kangaroo pouches.

Sage Princess

Providing nest boxes as homes

Tiny in boxAt home there is a possum who has decided to take up residence under the eaves of the woodshed. On hot days I can imagine it would get very hot sleeping directly under the tin roof, so one of my projects for the summer holidays was to make a possum box to try and entice this little lady to sleep somewhere a bit more comfortable. While building the box, it occurred to me that it would be a fantastic cross curricular project for school students of any age. You need science and research skills to find out about the species that you want to provide a home for (different entrance sizes are used for different species of possum); maths skills to measure and mark out the pieces and ensure to make the best use of the material available; and technology skills to build the actual box. Put a few boxes up around your school and donate the rest to a local wildlife group and your students will be involved in community outreach as well!

When you have finished your possum box, you need to think about where to put it. You want to make sure the entrance faces away from prevailing winds and that the box has plenty of shade during the hottest part of the day. Height is also important. Ideally, ringtails need them 4m above the ground while brushtails are happy between 2-3m above the ground.

Lots of the schools I go to have sparse trees so possums would have to come to ground to move between them. Anytime a possums comes to ground, it is at risk of predation by cats, dogs and foxes. You can help by running rope between major trees, particularly those that you know they like to feed on. It does not have to be overly thick or taut rope; think about how well possums navigate powerlines or a wire fence!

You will find many plans for possum boxes on the internet, just make sure you find one appropriate for the particular species you want to attract. Here are the possum box instructions that I use from Wildlife Victoria.

You can also make nest boxes for various native birds. These come in all shapes and sizes depending on the species. Check some out on the Birds in Backyards website.

Leave water out on extreme heat days

water_WildlifeVicThere is no denying that the number of 40oC plus days each summer is increasing. When the temperature soars, we head for the air conditioning, but our wildlife aren’t so lucky. During periods of extreme heat, our wildlife can suffer from dehydration and exhaustion.

You can help by putting out a shallow dish with water in a shaded spot in the garden on days that are going to be hot. Kitty litter trays or pot plant saucers are great, but any dish that isn’t metal works. Place some sticks or rocks inside it so that wildlife don’t get stuck and drown and remember to top it up in the afternoon for the nocturnal critters and the following day.

For more information about what to do if you come across an animal suffering from heat exhaustion, check out the Wildlife Victoria website

Wildlife-friendly bird netting

When I tell people that I’m a wildlife carer and that I look after possums, I get some mixed responses. Some people totally understand why I do what I do; others start complaining about the possums in their neighbourhood – the most common is to do with eating fruit from their fruit trees. While I understand that having wildlife eat your home grown fruit and vegetables is frustrating – my parents had a bumper crop on their apple core tree for several years in a row due to the local king parrot population – but if we don’t plant alternative sources of food, can we really blame wildlife for wanting those nice juicy nectarines and plums?

I’m not a fan of fruit netting in general due to the potential harm for wildlife; bats, birds and possums regularly get tangled in netting draped over trees, and lizards and snakes can get trapped in fruit netting left draped on the ground. However, if you need to use fruit netting to protect your trees, then make sure it is white so is more visible to nocturnal animals and that it passes the ‘finger test’. In other words, you should not be able to stick your finger through the mesh (generally, this means it needs to be less than 1cm holes).

There is still the potential for wildlife to become tangled in netting with small holes, so please ensure that they are not gaps in the netting (ie. use one piece of netting and only netting in good condition) and that it is not bunched up on the ground. As soon as fruit season is over, remove the netting from the trees.

Get crafty!

Late last year, following the bushfires in SA, a call was put by IFAW (International Fund for Animal Welfare) for people to sew mittens to protect the feet of koalas caught up in the fires. They were so overwhelmed with mittens from all over the world that they now have an oversupply of koala mittens!

There are lots of other ideas that you, your students and wider community can do to help injured wildlife. Wildlife shelters and carers are always in need of woollen pouches, pouch liners and large hanging pouches. These can be donated to your local wildlife shelter or rescue organisation.

Patterns are available from the Wildlife Victoria website.

After oil spills there may be a call for penguin jumpers to keep penguins with damaged feathers warm (you may remember the cute jumpers from Vermont Primary School that we shared in 2014). Keep your eye out if you hear of any tragic oil spill events.

possums in pouch Penguin jumpers

Lastly, if you find sick, injured or orphaned wildlife, contact Wildlife Victoria on 13 000 94535 (save it in your phone now and put it in your newsletter and ask families to do the same!). Cases can also be logged online the Wildlife Victoria website. You can also contact your local wildlife rescue group.

By CERES Education – Outreach Team|2017-11-06T18:21:07+10:00February 4th, 2015|0 Comments