The wildlife keepers’ romance began with a one-eyed magpie. Now her ‘babies’ are two tiny pygmy possums

It was a chance meeting about a one-eyed magpie that brought Darren Darch and Jenelle Ford together, ushering in a once-in-a-lifetime love story and a special partnership that would save the lives of countless animals.

Six years ago, Darren, who runs a native animal rescue and relocation service that specializes in venomous snakes, captured the struggling magpie.

He took it to Jenelle, an experienced bird keeper, who was already caring for a visually impaired magpie.

The couple smiles at the camera.
A magpie brought Darren Darch and Jenelle Ford together. (Supplied: Jenelle Ford)

Both birds were returned to the wild, and Darren and Jenelle’s love for each other soared as well.

Esperance’s Western Australian couple would form a partnership to care for native animals, from snakes to joeys, across the state.

Their latest rescue mission comes in the diminutive form of two pygmy possums, affectionately named Baby 1 and Baby 2, who, due to the couple’s care, are about to be released.

A pygmy possum crouches on native plants
Darren says that native pygmy possums are often mistaken for mice. (Supplied: Jenelle Ford)

A creative rescue mission

The pygmy possums were turned over to the local vet, who contacted Darren’s Fauna for the Future rescue service.

It’s only the second batch of pygmy possums he’s rescued, and the first he and Jenelle have bred.

Darren believes that an animal killed the twins’ mother while they were on her back.

“When they brought them in, they were just pinkies,” Darren said.

They looked like baby mice but with larger eyes and ears, had typically curly tails and were no more than 3cm long, he said.

Baby pygmy opossum on a person's thumb.
The baby pygmy possum is smaller than the tip of a thumb. (Supplied: Jenelle Ford)

Jenelle takes on the role of caretaker that she initially compared to life with a newborn: waking up 24 hours a day to feed him every two hours.

The couple are raising them in an ingenious heat box built by Darren, to prepare them for the outside world.

A dimmer controls a heat lamp and the box is filled with fresh natural flora from the area.

Darren and Jenelle also collect bugs with a zapper in the box, so the possums can catch their own food.

“It’s about removing the human element,” said Darren.

The two tiny possums at the bottom of a box
The two possums were especially small when the keepers first took them. (Supplied: Jenelle Ford)

Under the threat of cats

Darren wants the general public to be aware of the pygmy possum and to recognize that it may not always be a “mouse in the house”.

He said an Esperance resident was recently contacted about something behind his closet, which they initially thought was a small rodent.

But it was actually a pygmy possum, and he released it within 24 hours.

A baby pygmy possum between thumb and forefinger
The mother is believed to have been killed by a cat. (Supplied: Jenelle Ford)

Darren believes it was a cat that killed the mother of the twins he is raising and said it was not an uncommon scenario.

“Unfortunately, both pets and feral cats are defiling our local population with things like pygmy possums, lizards, snakes…the list goes on,” he said.

“Studies done in the eastern states show that even a domesticated cat can consume up to 20 animals a day.

“I love cats. We have one…it’s not about hating the cat, it’s about controlling it.”

release date close

Thanks to the love and care provided by the Esperance couple, Baby 1 and Baby 2 are almost ready for life outside of the heat box.

They are scheduled to go to 2 hectares of land, managed by Parks and Wildlife Department staff, where a population of pygmy possums already lives.

“They have excessive amounts of indigenous flowers and insects, which these guys eat, so it was a perfect choice to bring them back to that area.”

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