The night the possum chased us up the road

This week, I would like to tell you a personal story about an unlikely encounter with local wildlife. I was reminded of this incident last week when I was clearing out all the bits and pieces I have been hoarding over the years. It was then that I found this large tube containing some old wildlife posters. I had completely forgotten about them, so stumbling upon them was a rather pleasant surprise.

The first poster I unfurled was a full scale image of a Brush-tailed possum. It immediately brought up the hilarious memories of a night I will never forget – the night my friend and I got chased up the road by … who wants to guess … RIGHT, A POSSUM!

Common brush-tailed possum (Trichosurus vulpecula)
Common brushtailed possum (Trichosurus vulpecula)

This was during the first year of my Master course. I studied, and later became good friends, with these two brilliant ladies from Europe. One was an aspiring wildlife vet, and the other had (and still has) a passion for research in evolutionary biology and genetics.

Being good friends, we shared our love for wildlife and conservation in the good company of food and wine. Sometimes the girls would stay over and we would share some seriously scrumptious goodies and talk until late night. On this fateful night, only one of them had stayed over. After dinner, when it was already dark, we decided to go for a walk around the block hoping to be able to undo some of the damage caused by all the eating we had done.

On the way back, as we approached the entrance to my unit building, my friend spotted the shadow of this rather large mammal darting across the pavement and making its way up the tree stopping still just across the letter boxes, probably at a height of about a metre above the ground. I proudly informed my friend that it might be a Common brushtailed possum (also affectionately known as a ‘brushie’) as I had seen a few around this area. She got ecstatic. Having come all the way from Sweden, I am sure it must have been exciting to encounter a native mammal in a suburban environment, right outside my doorstep. She insisted to take a closer look. Slowly and quietly we approached this mysterious figure, which indeed turned out to be a brushie!

The place where it all started
The place where it all started (the tree on the left)

Standing about a metre away from our furry friend, my not-so-furry human friend was basking in the incidence of this possum encounter saying how cute it was and how she could not believe that we were looking at it from such a close distance. In respectful awe, we stood there looking at the possum, while the possum was looking back at us. But something didn’t quite feel right. Not only was it looking at us, it was looking with a certain intent. We couldn’t help but feel that it was calculating something, as if swiftly weighing up the risks of fight or flight. At some point, the animal almost looked like it was going to pounce on us from the tree. The body was stiff, head transfixed on us, eyes wide-open and not moving, with all four legs extended in a push-up position. I slowly started nudging my friend trying to indicate that we should probably leave now.

Even before I could finish my sentence, brushie decided to jump off the tree branch like James Bond and started running in our direction. It was as if our slight backwards motion had given away a sign of weakness and surrender, in turn encouraging the brushie’s display of strength and right of territory. This happened so fast. It felt like I blinked and suddenly found ourselves running up the road without fully fathoming the reality of this whole situation. To add some special effects to this dramatic event, we were also screaming in terror. I bet if someone from the neighbourhood had looked out of their window seeing us screaming and running up the road, their first instinct would have been to look for a man with a big knife chasing after us. While running, I managed to quickly look over my shoulder a couple of times, and to my utter horror saw that the possum was still in hot pursuit after us. Not only that, it seemed to be catching up!!

Fortunately for us, the whole scene ended as abruptly as it had started. On what felt like my third glance, I could no longer see the brushie. But boy, the fella had definitely showed us who was boss! We stood there for a good minute or so trying to catch our breath, before suddenly bursting out in laughter. The comedy of this incident was just too much. Two aspiring wildlife conservationists chased up the road in the dark, screaming, by a Brush-tailed possum. I suspect, us standing there and staring at it back there could have felt threatening to the poor brushie. This sure taught us a lesson not to get too close to an animal for unnecessary reasons. Who knows? The brushie might have been protecting its nest, the territory or simply telling us to bugger off and leave it alone. After a moment of calm, we immediately made a pact that under no circumstances are we to reveal this to any of our fellow classmates. Yeeeah…about that…gosh, I hope she is not going to read this.

Photo Credit (Possum): Foter / CC BY-NC
Photo Credit (Header): David Cook Wildlife Photography / FoterCC BY-NC

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