Now, That’s What We Call Being a Wildlife Lover

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The near ubiquitous North and Central American species, Didelphis virginianathe Virginia opossum, more familiarly known as the “possum”—is not the most beloved of woodland creatures. Indeed, the furry, long-tailed, sharp-toothed marsupial seems regarded mostly by humans as a loathsome pest, due to its predilection for knocking over and digging through garbage cans in search of snacks.  It doesn’t help the opossum’s reputation that it sometimes is a carrier of rabies, or that its instinctive response to being confronted by a bigger creature is to induce a catatonic state and feign its own death. (According to this informative treatise on the species by the Humane Society of the United States, opossums have been known to pretend to be carcasses as long as two hours straight, before coming forth, Lazarus-like, to resume their scavenging.) Professional trappers are often called in to get rid of them.

Considering the generally sorry state of the opossum-human relationship, it was a bit disconcerting to see this Associated Press report

State police have charged a central Pennsylvania man with public drunkenness after he was seen giving mouth-to-mouth “resuscitation” to a long-dead opossum along a highway.

In the interest of avoiding sensationalism, the AP went on to explain that  witnesses gave slightly varying accounts of the incident.

Trooper Jamie Levier says several witnesses saw the 55-year-old man near the animal along Route 36 in Oliver Township Thursday about 3 p.m. The trooper says one person saw the man kneeling before the animal and gesturing as though he were conducting a séance, while another saw the mouth-to-mouth attempt.

There’s a certain unsettling ambiguity here. Was the man a truly rare, if somewhat misguided, opossum benefactor, or is this yet another tragic case of a would-be necromancer confusing World of Warcraft with reality? Assuming the former, we should mention, in the man’s defense, that attempting to revive a seemingly dead animal is not as silly as it might seem. According to this South Coast Today article, a Massachusetts fireman managed to save a house cat rescued from a burning building through mouth-to-mouth resuscitation. And considering what cats habitually do with their mouths, we can’t honestly say that it’s that much more disgusting to lock lips with a opossum, now, can we?