Wild possums loose in Brooklyn

Wild possums are destroying Brooklynites’ gardens, threatening small dogs and terrifying teenage girls.

“Last year, while walking around the [Dyker Beach] golf course at dusk, my daughter and I bumped into one. We were so scared. We’re city girls,” said Marnee Elias-Pavia, district manager of Community Board 11, which covers Bensonhurst, Mapleton, Bath Beach and Gravesend.

Elias-Pavia’s 13-year-old daughter was terrified.

“My daughter screamed and I had to grab her from running into the street,” Elias-Pavia recalled.

Josephine Beckmann, district manager of Community Board 10, said there have been many reports of possums in Bay Ridge, Dyker Heights and Fort Hamilton.

“They look like rats,” she said. “They eat fruit off of fruit trees, they burrow, and they eat food from garbage cans.”

With possums on the loose, Reeves Eisen, a rep for City Councilmember Lew Fidler (D-Marine Park), said residents must take extra precautions with their pets.

“What concerns me is we’ve been told they go after small animals. So I only take my dog out on a leash, even in the yard, after dark,” Eisen said. “Since they’re nocturnal, people are advised to be very careful if they see them during the day.”

Maria Pagano, president of the Carroll Garden Neighborhood Association, said residents tell her stories of the creatures slipping out of Prospect Park and creeping through their neighborhoods.

Sara Weber, a gardener in Carroll Park, said she found dead pigeons and mutilated squirrel bodies throughout the park. Weber initially thought rat poison had killed the animals but now believes raccoons are to blame.

“I’d rather see possums than raccoons,” she said. “Raccoons have sharp claws and are more likely to attack a little kid who thought they were cute, but a possum would play, well, possum.”

City Councilmember Domenic Recchia (D-Coney Island) claims the city is responsible for the growing possum population.

About 10 years ago, “There was a rat problem in Marine Park and Gerritsen Beach so they brought the possums in to target the rats,” Recchia explained. “These possums weren’t supposed to be able to duplicate, to have babies. It turns out that they had babies. Now, they’re pretty much everywhere and they’re a problem.”

When questioned about Recchia’s claim, the mayor’s office referred calls to the city Health Department, which said, “We do not have a record of this action.”

Health Department officials said they had not received any complaints of wild possums but recommended that Brooklynites contact licensed trappers to rid their property of any possums considered a nuisance.

Urban Park Ranger Andrew Marsala described possums as shy but filthy animals that live off scraps.

“They act as nature’s garbage men,” Marsala said.

Possums’ opposable hind toes and prehensile tails allow them to climb trees in forests and the borough’s parks, he said. The creatures reproduce and mature at an incredible rate.

“They have a quick pregnancy,” Marsala said. “It’s almost like a bowel movement.”

Marsala believes possums aren’t dangerous. He offered a childhood story of how he chased and caught one of the critters. Marsala said the creature stuck out its tongue, rolled its eyes and played dead until he let it loose.

However, Anthony Prasearo, Brooklyn’s head Urban Park Ranger, did not advise chasing the marsupials. Prasearo said they will hiss and maybe even bite before curling up and playing, uh, possum.

“Give it some space,” he said. “They play possum as a last resort.”

Brooklynites say city officials must take action to ensure the safety of residents — especially since a rabid raccoon was found in Boerum Hill last month.

“There’s a lot of concern about rabies in raccoons and, with that, I think the city should do something about the possums,” Beckmann said.

“I don’t know whether they’re diseased or not. I think it needs to be watched to see if there’s rabies or other diseases,” Elias-Pavia agreed.

Brooklynites must protect themselves and their property, she added.

“People have to prevent possums from coming onto their property by keeping garbage cans closed tightly,” Elias-Pavia said.

Most importantly, don’t leave food out on your porch for stray cats or other wild animals.

“If you take away a food source maybe that will lure them to a different habitat,” Beckmann said.


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