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Heidi, Cross-Eyed Opossum Captures the Hearts of Germans

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Heidi, one of the three opossums which can be seen in the Gondwanaland tropical experience world from 1 July 2011, has become well known in the media.A few facts about Heidi the opossum. Where does Heidi come from? Leipzig zoo currently has three opossums – the male Teddy and and the two sisters Heidi and Naira. All three arrived in Leipzig zoo on 5 May 2010 and came from the Ebeltoft and Odense zoos in Denmark. The male was born in Ebeltoft, while the two females originally came from North Carolina (USA), where they were found as orphans and raised in a wild animal sanctuary. How old is Heidi? The two females Heidi and her sister Naira were probably born in May 2008, which makes them 2.5 years old. The male Teddy was born in May 2009 and is 1.5 years old. Opossums have a maximum life expectancy of 4 to 5 years. Where can Heidi be found in Leipzig zoo? From 1 July 2011

Heidi and the two other opossums will be on show in a section for nocturnal animals within the Gondwanaland tropical experience world. At the moment the animals are being kept in a quarantine station where they can be acclimatised before they begin life in Gondwanaland. Heidi is therefore at the moment NOT on view to zoo visitors! Why does Heidi have a squint? We don’t exactly know the reason for this. Both Heidi and her sister Naira already had this visual abnormality when they arrived in Leipzig. There are two possible reasons for this: It could be the result of the way the animals were fed when they were raised by hand in the USA, although it is difficult to judge this in retrospect. Because Heidi is overweight, as can be seen from the fatty deposits in her tail, it could well be similar fatty deposits behind the eyes which are pressing the eyeballs slightly out of the eye sockets. Does Heidi suffer under this visual abnormality? Squinting is an inevitable adjustment to the abnormal positioning of the eyes. Apart from the aesthetic aspect this condition is not the problem because the tear ducts operate normally and the cornea is not affected. As nocturnal animals opossums also rely very much on their nose to find their way around, which means that movement is not restricted either. Heidi has no problems with other members of her species, and when she is together with her sister or with the male they seem to get on well. Heidi has no discomfort as a result of her eye problem and in all other respects her behaviour is entirely normal. What is Leipzig zoo doing to help Heidi? First and foremost the vets want to reduce Heidi’s weight, which will also be good for her overall health. As a result, immediately after her arrival in Leipzig she was put on a diet which is high in fibre and low in energy, and has already lost a few

hundred grams in weight. This can also be seen from the tail, which has been reduced considerably in circumference and can once more be used to grip things when she’s climbing. However, as fatty deposits behind the eyes are not reduced until hardly any fatty reserves remain in the body, this diet will need to be continued for a long time yet before any significant results become visible here. Why has Heidi become so well-known? At the end of 2010 there was a report on the acclimatisation station for the Gondwanaland tropical experience world which presented all the species of animals held there for later introduction into their tropical environment. Thanks to photos of the ‘squinting opossum’ Heidi then very quickly became well-known, which then resulted in further press reports. For the zoo all this media publicity, which had not been planned, came as a complete surprise. What does Heidi’s fame mean for Leipzig zoo? For Leipzig zoo Heidi is first and foremost, like all other animals in the acclimatisation station, an ambassador for the Gondwanaland tropical experience world which will be opening on 1 July 2011. Apart from that Leipzig zoo currently has no plans for the active marketing of Heidi. The zoo does not earn any money from the press reports, either. However, in order to avoid any possible misuse, Leipzig zoo has registered extensive rights for itself. If there are any revenues from third-party sources (e.g. participation in the earnings from a Heidi song which has been announced in the press), these will be invested completely

in the “Protecting the Sabah rhinos in Borneo project” which, as a rain forest conservation project, is closely related to the Gondwanaland tropical experience world. Animal sponsorships for the opossums (as for many other types of animal at the zoo) are organised by the zoo’s supporters (Freundes- und Förderkreis). General facts about the opossum:Opossums are members of the marsupial family (which raise their young in a pouch) and range in distribution from Canada via the USA to central Argentina.There are several species, but the animals in Leipzig zoo belonged to the Virginia opossums (distribution: southern Canada, USA, Central America to Costa Rica). All species are still plentiful and are not threatened with extinction.Opossums are solitary nocturnal animals and, with the aid of their prehensile tail, are excellent climbers. As a species which can adapt to human habitat they can also be found in gardens and parks, although their normal environment is forests and shrub land. Opossums are omnivorous and their diet ranges from insects, small animals and eggs to seeds and fruit. They have a powerful bite and can open their jaws to almost 90 degrees.One special feature is that opossums can play dead for up to 6 hours by reducing their breathing and heart rate and at the same time emitting a foul smelling liquid. This is perfect deception for predators which do not eat carrion. News from:  Zoo Leipzig

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