An opossum that found its way to Homer in a shipping container and has been on the loose for close to two months has been captured and is now in Anchorage, where it will be kept at the Alaska Zoo.
The wayward animal’s arrival and escape in late March caused a stir in the southern Kenai Peninsula town, with locals speculating about the opossum’s whereabouts, calling for it to be allowed to live at a zoo or conservation center and circulating hashtags online including #FreeGrubby. The town christened the animal “Grubby” in a nod to where it was first sighted, on Homer’s Grubstake Avenue.
The excitement in town eventually died down — until this week, when a Homer police officer spotted the opossum near businesses not far from where it had been seen previously on Grubstake Avenue, according to biologist Jason Herreman with the Alaska Department of Fish and Game. Early Wednesday morning, the officer was able to corner the animal and, with the help of another officer who brought a trash can, took it back to the police station, Herreman said.
From there, Grubby was brought to the Homer Fish and Game office. Upon initial examination, Herreman said the opossum is female, and he didn’t see any sign of it having young.
Opossums are not native to Alaska and are considered an invasive species. Herreman had said previously that Fish and Game was concerned the animal posed a risk due to possible diseases it could be carrying and its ability to disrupt the local ecosystem. But rather than being put down, Grubby will live out her days in an exhibit at the Alaska Zoo in Anchorage.
Zoo director Pat Lampi said Thursday that Fish and Game had reached out to the zoo to see if there was any chance the facility could take in the animal. After discussing it internally, the zoo decided to keep the opossum, and it arrived in Anchorage on Wednesday evening.
“There’s some educational benefits about invasive species, or similar species,” Lampi said.
The animal will undergo an inspection by a zoo veterinarian and be quarantined for a period of time, Lampi said. In the meantime, the zoo will work on preparing a habitat for it.
“We’ve got some areas that are probably OK at least in the short-term,” Lampi said. “We’ve never had an opossum here before, so I know several of us have been exploring what it takes.”
While Grubby is the first opossum to grace the Alaska Zoo, Lampi said the facility has taken in other invasive animals in the past, including raccoons and even a mountain lion. And while the zoo did not choose the animal’s nickname, he said the moniker “Grubby” is probably going to stick.
Herreman said it’s not surprising the opossum lived this long on its own so far from home.
“Their normal habitat has temperatures like we do this time of year,” he said. Opossums eat a variety of prey and are not particular about what they consume.
Herreman stressed “the threat that invasive species can have to our native flora and fauna, and even to our human population.”