This past week our beloved ambassador, Delphine, was humanely euthanized due to her declining health. Our Wildlife Medical Clinic community is deeply saddened with the loss and we appreciate all of the kind words and support during this difficult time. Delphine was beloved by her caretakers, volunteers, community members, and social media followers. Delphine lived a wonderful life at WMC, where she enjoyed delicious food, comfy beds, lots of interactive enrichment, and endless love and attention from her caretakers over her three and a half years with us. Although Delphine’s life has come to an end, her legacy and impact on wildlife education will carry on.
Del was brought into WMC in 2017 after being found orphaned and subsequently hand-reared by a well-meaning member of the public. Due to her habituation to humans, she was deemed non-releasable. Luckily, Delphine’s friendly demeanor made her a perfect candidate to join the ambassador animals at WMC, representing our only mammal in the collection during her tenure. The name Delphine was inspired after the scientific name for opossum, Didelphis virginiana. Delphine, or “Del” served as an ambassador for her species, the only native North American marsupial. Although well intentioned, Del was an example of why orphaned wildlife should only be cared for by licensed wildlife rehabilitators, where they have the best chance of being released back into the wild.
During her time with us, Delphine was treated for a rear limb injury that left her limping and painful, likely originating from injury prior to her being found as an orphan. Her treatment included a surgical procedure called FHO (femoral head osteotomy), during which we removed the offending painful bone, allowing her to get around easier. With age, Del developed arthritis and neuropathy in her hind limbs that was well managed with the help of the neurology and rehabilitation services at the University of Illinois Veterinary Teaching Hospital. Despite these efforts, over the past few weeks Del’s use of her rear legs rapidly declined, ultimately leading to the decision of humane euthanasia. Delphine was almost 4 years of age – twice the life expectancy of a wild opossum.
Delphine played an important role at WMC as an ambassador for her species. She attended public presentations and displays where she captured the hearts of many attendees throughout the Urbana-Champaign community. Delphine was also on television, where she promoted her species and the WMC on WCIA’s ciLiving. While she was a bit of a local celebrity, photos and videos of Del posted on the WMC Facebook page gained the attention of thousands of followers more broadly. Her caretakers made sure to capture Del’s cutest moments from the ever-changing decor inside her enclosure to her interactions with enrichment items. There was even a video of her correctly predicting the 2019 Superbowl winner! Although her popularity may seem trivial, Delphine’s lovable personality accomplished a very important goal – she shifted many negative public perceptions of opossums. Those that attended her in-person presentations were able to observe an opossum closeup and were often pleasantly surprised by her sweet appearance and inquisitive demeanor. It served as a perfect forum for these visitors to learn how this well-adapted, unique species actually helps to improve the health of our wild spaces and backyards alike by munching on pests, including ticks and rodents, and being resistant to rabies infection. Delphine was living proof that opossums are not the stereotypical disease-ridden, aggressive pests of which they are often portrayed. Delphine may not have understood her importance, but she played an invaluable role in wildlife education for which we will be forever grateful.
To Delphine, thank you for showing the world the sweeter side of opossums, for inspiring so many to appreciate and respect wildlife, and for all of the wonderful memories. Rest easy, dearest Delphine, you will be greatly missed.
This tribute was written by Sara Colin, c/o 2022, WMC PR Coordinator and Clinic Team Leader