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Proceedings of the First Symposium on Marsupials in New Zealand

Topic 3: General Housing & Husbandry Of Captive Marsupials

page 246

Topic 3: General Housing & Husbandry Of Captive Marsupials

CUMMINS. Marsupials and especially possums are going to be used more and more as laboratory animals in New Zealand. Do we have any idea on suitable housing methods, especially if we want to breed the animals. Is there any magic formula for keeping possums happy in a cage?

FITZGERALD. Not that I am aware of. At DSIR, Taita, we have been known to stock our small outside animal house with as many as 16 or 17 possums which would seem to be overcrowded; they certainly scrap a bit but we do get successful breeding. I find we can get animals through to the large pouch-young or back-young stage; then we start to get the young dying because they are not in a position where they have very ready access to the food.

CUMMINS. What sort of diet are you maintaining your animals on?

FITZGERALD. We try to keep it fairly mixed. We use a basic SG1 commercial pelleted diet and we supplement this with bread, apples, leaves, household scraps but no bones.

SPURR. The N.Z. Forest Service at Rangiora had the same problem in losing back-young in captive stock.

MEADOWS. T.J. Bergin, a zoo curator, suggests that marsupials should be in a cage eight times the length of the body (head plus body not tail); the width of the cage should be four times the body length; the height should be about 4 feet (1.2 m). In that sort of situation they seem to be maintained quite happily.

CUMMINS. So for possums that would work out at a length of about 8 ft, (2.4 m), a width of 4 ft (1.2 m) and a height of 4 ft (1.2 m).

MEADOWS. If anybody wants a reference its a refresher course for veterinarian postgraduates held at Sydney last year, no. 29.

PRACY. Is that formula for holding the possums or for reproduction?

page 247

MEADOWS. This is for reproduction. In a colony these are optimum figures. I'm not suggesting they couldn't be held in less.

PRACY. Initially in the Orongorongo Valley over 1947-60 we had trouble with females reproducing under cage conditions. We had pens 16′ × 16′ × 9′ high (4.9 × 4.9 × 2.7 m) with good nest boxes. Initially they had earth floors but this was unhygenic and it was not until we put concrete floors in and kept them well washed that we found an improvement.

ANONYMOUS. At Massey University we kept possums in cages 3′ × 2′ × 2′ (0.9 × 0.6 × 0.6 m) over trays.