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Meet Skookum: A bright, curious rescued opossum with a taste for apples—but only without the peel!

Posted by Elizabeth Bacher, Communications
Photos: Jeremy Dwyer-Lindgren/Woodland Park Zoo

Hello Skookum! This young opossum has the cutest "blep" ever! 

We’d like you to meet the newest member of our Ambassador Animal family—a young Virginia opossum named Skookum! Opossums are the only marsupials (mammals that carry their offspring in a pouch) native to North America. They are very misunderstood animals that are generally shy—avoiding confrontation with people—and they help keep the environment healthy and clean by eating bugs like ticks, rotting fruit and carcasses.

Skookum, shortly after coming into Puget Sound WildCare where he received veterinary and nutritional care in a wildlife rehabilitation setting. THAT NOSE! Photo Klara Messersmith of Puget Sound WildCare

Skookum is a rescue animal who came to us through Puget Sound WildCare in Kent, WA. He was found after his mother was hit by a car and he spent some time in a private home setting with well-meaning people who clearly wanted to help him, but soon realized they lacked the knowledge and training needed to provide the expert wildlife rehabilitation care this little guy needed. By the time he finally recovered Skookum was, unfortunately, too imprinted on humans to be released back into the wild. Now Woodland Park Zoo can provide him with a safe, enriching home and he is proving to be a rockstar ambassador for his species. We estimate that he is now about 5 or 6 months old, which is almost an adult for an opossum. In nature they are solitary, with family groups separating as soon as the young are able to care for themselves—they grow up very quickly!

Woodland Park Zoo Animal Care Manager, Susie, picks up Skookum from Puget Sound WildCare's rehab center to bring him to his new home at Woodland Park Zoo. Photo: Allison Bjornstad of Puget Sound WildCare

As a member of our Ambassador Animals family, Skookum will become part of Woodland Park Zoo’s educational programs, helping build empathy for animals, teaching us to coexist with the wild animals living in our urban habitats, and promoting ways to help wildlife stay wild. You may soon be able to meet him through up-close experiences at the zoo’s theaters and other spring and summer season programs. But until he’s ready for his debut, Skookum spends most of his time behind-the-scenes.

Most opossums don't like being held or petted, like a cat or dog might, and we respect their space. That means providing our animals with choices and control when it comes to training sessions—which is all voluntary. Giving them the chance to choose whether they want to take part in these sessions (which usually includes yummy snacks) allows them to voluntarily participate in their own healthcare too. It enables our animal keepers and veterinary staff to be able to touch them in a stress-free way to make sure they're in good body condition or perhaps to trim their nails or check their teeth.

Our amazing Ambassador Animal keepers who work with Skookum, tell us that he has quite a sweet disposition. Tori and Lindsay say he loves being cozy and curling up under the blankets in a comfy space just for him. When he wakes up, they just see a moving lump under the blankets for a while before he finally emerges to say hello. They say his preference would likely be to have breakfast in bed every day if he could get away with it! But once he gets a start to the day, Skookum is bright and curious and is starting to come out of his shell and show his personality a little more each day.

When it comes to food, Tori and Lindsay say Skookum is comfortable taking food out of their hands (not that all his meals are hand-fed) very gently, and even licks their fingers on occasion to get every little bit. He is, however, very fussy about eating apple slices. They say he chews for a while, eating the “good stuff”, then spits out the peel—sort of like a little kid who won’t eat the crusts of his sandwich.

As for oranges, Skookum says a big “no thanks!” He does not like them and will spit them out as a clear message that they should not be on his menu! But there is a lot more variety to his diet than just fruit. In the wild, Virginia opossums are omnivores, meaning that as well as plant-based foods, they will eat insects, worms, eggs, fish and small animals like amphibians, reptiles, birds and even other mammals. Some of the animals they eat are already dead, which makes opossums a “helpful clean-up crew” for the environment—eating ticks and rotting carcasses that might otherwise spread diseases.

Virginia opossums are very misunderstood. They are generally shy, have a natural resistance to rabies, and help keep our environment healthy and clean.

Skookum’s favorite foods include mice (frozen and defrosted parts we sometimes call “meesus pieces”), grapes, fish, all things meat, and apple—minus the peel, of course! Welcome, Skookum! We are already in love with you!

If you spot any of Skookum's wild friends in your yard or neighborhood, please feel free to share your observations with us via Opossums are not technically classified as carnivores (they’re marsupials), but since their diet includes meat, they fill a similar niche in our urban environments as many of our urban carnivores. The tool is part of the Seattle Urban Carnivore project—a partnership between Woodland Park Zoo and Seattle University that collects data on how mammalian carnivores coexist with people across urban and suburban areas in our region.

FUN FACTS: Here are a few reasons why we think opossums, like Skookum, are awesome!
  • They help keep the environment clean by eating ticks, rotting fruit and dead animals
  • They have an amazing immune system, a natural resistance to rabies and are unaffected by most snake venom
  • They are mostly quiet and peaceful animals that prefer not to fight—but when threatened they can mimic the appearance of a sick or dead animal. This is known as “playing possum”.