The caregiver’s romance began in the wild with the one-eyed magpie. Now their “children” are two small pygmy opossums

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

Six years ago, Darren, who runs an animal rescue and relocation service that specializes in venomous snakes, took in a distressed magpie.

He brings her to Jenelle, an experienced birder, who has already been taking care of a visual magpie.

The husband smiles at the camera
Magpie brought Darren Darsch and Jenelle Ford together. (Supplied: Jenelle Ford)

Both birds are released back into the wild, and Darren and Jenelle’s love for each other takes flight as well.

The Western Australian couple from Esperance will go on to form a partnership to care for native animals, from snakes to joeys, across the state.

The final rescue mission comes in the form of a pint of dwarf possums, lovingly named Baby 1 and Baby 2, who, due to the couple’s care, are about to be released.

A dwarf opossum squatting on native plants
Darren says domestic pygmy opossums are often confused with mice. (Supplied: Jenelle Ford)

Creative rescue mission

The dwarves were dropped off at the local vet, who contacted Darren Fauna for the Future Rescue Service.

It is only the second set of pygmy opossums he has rescued, and the first that he and Jenelle have raised.

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

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

He said they looked like small mice but with larger eyes and ears, usually curled tails, and were no more than 3 cm long.

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

Jenelle takes on the role of a caregiver who, at first, likened her to life with a newborn — waking up around the clock to feed them every two hours.

The pair raise them in a foxy heat box built by Darren, to prepare them for the outside world.

The dimmer controls the heat lamp and the box is filled with fresh, natural plants from the area.

Darren and Jenelle also collect insects with a zapper in the box, so the opossum can catch their food.

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

The two little opossums are at the bottom of the box
The two were especially small when their caregivers first took them in. (Supplied: Jenelle Ford)

Under threat from cats

Darren wants the general public to be aware of pygmy possums, and to realize that he may not always be a “house mouse”.

He said that a resident of Esperance recently made contact with something behind their wheel, which they initially thought was a small rodent.

But it was actually a dwarf opossum, and he was released within 24 hours.

A small dwarf opossum between the thumb and forefinger
It is believed that a cat killed the mother. (Supplied: Jenelle Ford)

Darren believed a cat had killed the mother of the twins he was raising, and said this was not an uncommon scenario.

“Unfortunately pets and stray cats desecrate our local population with things like pygmies, lizards, snakes…the list goes on,” he said.

Studies in the eastern states have shown that even a pet cat can eat up to 20 animals per day.

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

Release date near

With the love and care of Spouses Esperance, Baby 1 and Baby 2 are almost ready for life outside the warming box.

They are set to go to two hectares of land, managed by staff from the Parks and Wildlife Department, where the dwarf population already lives.

“They have excessive amounts of native flowers and insects, which these guys eat, so it was just the perfect choice to get them back to that area.”

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