Niereliss

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On a nice, warm day back on Kangaroo Island, Min (Jay & Tali’s Grandmother) and I had just come in from working out in the garden. Min discovered a tiny baby “mouse” on the floor of our art studio. Seeing a mouse was no unusual occurrence - they were everywhere.. but this was just a tiny, tiny baby.. still pink with just a hint of fur.. eyes not yet opened and almost the size of a Texas Jellybean. Min thought it would be best to just do away with it before it added to the vermin problem that already existed in our area. I tended to agree, but couldn’t bring myself to do it. I decided to take it up to the Schofield’s home. They were the resident animal experts and knew their stuff! I thought that at least Andy might whack it on the head for me since I hadn’t the constitution for that kind of thing.

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On the way up to their house in the car... this “mouse” , I noticed, was curling it’s tail up and holding the cloth it was rested on in a fashion I didn’t quite expect from a mouse. My suspicions about this little creature were growing.

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When I showed it to Bec and Andy.. Bec merely glimpsed at it and knew immediately that it was a Pygmy Possum. She gave me some printed info she had from one she found years ago... and some special possum formula she also had left over from a baby ring-tail possum she had reared not long before. I was in for the shock of my life!!! 2 hourly syringe feeding day and night!! After a week of that I thought I was going to die... but I was determined to look after this precious little girl.

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It took a lot of convincing for John to get comfortable with the idea that I could handle the sleep deprivation.. getting up at all hours of the night to warm up her milk by candlelight (no electricity in the house I lived in).. re-filling the hot water bottle in her makeshift bed to keep her warm while I slept. In the daytime, I had her in a pouch around my neck, next to my skin so she didn’t get cold. It was just like having a real baby. Wherever I went, she came with me. She had her little “diaper bag” at the ready with an ice bottle to keep her milk refrigerated, tissues to mop up, boiled water to clean up the syringes, and spare pouches (for when nature called). John picked out her name for me. Niereliss is Elvish for “tear of honey”.. so tiny and so sweet.

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There were a few moments of “touch-and-go” for us. In the early hours one morning, I awoke (ready for the next feed) up on my loft to find that she had gone missing from her bed. I was terrified that, wherever she was, she was going to get squashed by one of us, or found by the dog. After lighting every candle I could get my hands on and crawling around my floor, ripping everything off my bed to make sure she wasn’t tangled up in there... I resigned myself to the idea that she was gone and probably wouldn’t survive the next 24 hours. I cried myself to sleep at that point, devastated. I wasn’t going to go to work that day.. I was too upset.. but John convinced me that going to work would cheer me up - it always did. So I dragged my swollen eyeballs out of bed and started to get ready. Whilst finding some clothes to wear for the day, I opened my underwear drawer... and to my delighted and relieved surprise... there she was.. curled up sleeping in a pair of my knickers!!!!! She was very cold and hungry, but otherwise fine. I gave her a big drink of possum milk and put her back in her pouch to warm up.

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After about a month of this.. she graduated to “possum porridge” which was a mix of possum milk, honey, rice cereal (the kind you feed human babies) and insectivore mix (in the most basic sense - dehydrated, squashed bug powder!!!). She grew so fast and soon needed an enclosure. So I built one and outfitted it with fly-mesh sides for ventilation.. fresh flowers to eat and lots of small branches to exercise on. She was right at home I think. For a while we tried to feed her live bugs. Once or twice she indulged in a moth.. but preferred her porridge. There went my hopes of being able to release her into the wild again!

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So Niereliss stayed.

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When it was time for me to move to the United States, Bec and Andy Schofield adopted Niereliss. I knew they’d take the best care of her... and they did. She got a new deluxe model enclosure - at least three times the size of the one I made her when she was a baby. I’m sure she loved it to bits. However.. at some point, months after I moved, Niereliss decided for herself that it was time to go tackle the big, wide world. Bec thought she had gone into torpor (semi-hibernation) and huddled up in a tiny ball somewhere in there... but after a long search of the enclosure, she was gone. Bec left little dishes of porridge out for her for a week or two.. but there are plenty of wonderful native flowers around their home, laden with tiny bugs for her to eat.

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I’m sure my little girl is out there, filling up on some of her favourite foods.. and has maybe even found a mate for herself. She’s a tough little cookie, and although I miss her.. I’m glad she’s back where she truly belongs.

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I give a special thanks to Bec and Andy, not just for taking brilliant care of Niereliss, but also for being great friends, neighbours .. and snake catchers on occasion.

If you would like to see LOTS of pictures of little Niereliss, please click here.

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