At some point in time, you may have heard about Australia’s famous kangaroos.
But did you know that an animal related to the kangaroo lives right here in TT and that it is more common than you think?
The black-eared opossum (Didelphis marsupialis), or manicou, as it is commonly called in TT, belongs to the marsupial family, like kangaroos.
The manicou, like most marsupials, give birth in a special way.
Ricardo Meade told Newsday Kids, “Marsupials do not have a placenta, so their offspring are born as an embryo in the early stages of development.
“Therefore, when manicous give birth, their young are totally unrecognisable.
“What makes the way that marsupials give birth even more special is that when they give birth, the offspring will crawl into their mother’s pouch and attach themselves to a nipple.”
Meade is founder of the El Socorro Centre for Wildlife Conservation in Freeport. Created in 2005, the centre does conservation programmes and rehabilitates animals rescued from distressing situations.
Roughly the size of a fingernail when they are born, young manicous often suckle in their mother’s pouch for up to two months after their birth.
Just like kangaroos, a nursing manicou’s pouch will stretch to accommodate their growing young.
As they become older and larger, young manicous crawl out of their mother’s pouch and ride on her back while she forages for food.
“Eventually, when babies are big enough, they fall off of their mother during foraging and are left to fend on their own.
“One by one, the young manicous will leave to start their own lives.”
Manicous are nocturnal in nature – which means they are active during the night – so, they rely heavily on a strong sense of touch and smell to help with their foraging.
In TT, manicous are a popular game animal and are hunted for their meat.
However, despite their popularity as a wildmeat delicacy, Meade cautions people to think twice before they hunt and eat manicous.
“What manicous do and eat makes them not the best candidate for consumption.
“Their main diet consists of grubs and bugs, but they also source protein from other places.
“Manicous enjoy roaches, crickets, rats, maggots, worms and carcasses like roadkill.”
Meade also wants people to think carefully about hunting manicous because it is currently unknown how hunting affects their numbers in the wild.
The rate at which they are hunted is increased given that they are listed as vermin (pests) under TT’s Conservation of Wildlife Act.
Because of this, people can hunt manicous both during and outside of the hunting season.
However, Meade questions the manicou’s designation as a pest and said it may be doing more harm than good.
“Without question (because it is on the vermin list), people are allowed to kill any (number) of manicous anywhere. As a result of the unchecked exploitation of the species, we believe the population of manicous are plummeting in the wild.
“We at the El Socorro Centre for Wildlife Conservation used the Freedom of Information Act to get information about the scientific data used to put the manicou on the vermin list.
“However, we got a reply saying that no such data was available. (So) there’s the possibility it is on the vermin list without any scientific data.”