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Norwich Bulletin - 4/5/2009

The Sugar Glider

I am not a person who believes in exotic pets. And what happened a few months ago with a 200 pound chimp, just reinforces my belief. Most animals are not domestic and should not be treated as such. Cuddly cats and dogs are great companions and between the two there are enough different sizes and personalities to match anyone’s needs. But I recognize that there are people who have a fascination for exotics.

I have two friends that own sugar gliders, both people having very different experiences with them. One is totally bonded with my friend and is carried around in his little pouch and gets kisses and seems to be happy. The other, however, continues to bite and be fairly vicious to the hand that feeds her. There seems to be no bonding and a lot of frustration on the part of this human and the animal. These two people got their sugar gliders on the same day, from the same person and followed the same protocol. I am writing about Sugar Gliders because I find them very interesting, even if I personally will never own one.

Sugar gliders are originally from Australia, Indonesia and New Guinea, and they live in the forest. Their name is because of their diet. The sugar part is because they feed on nectar and eucalyptus sap, and have a flap of skin that allows them to glide between trees. They eat plant material and meat both: frit, nectar, insets, rodents and even small birds. They live in social family units in the wild. If they are deprived of social interaction, they will not thrive in captivity and may even become so depressed they will die.

I am told that they are playful and entertaining little pets. They should be kept in pairs and if you decide to have only one glider, you need to have a lot of interaction with them. They are clean and have easy housing requirements and tend to be fairly healthy, which is a good thing, since most vets would not know how to treat them. They can live around 14 years with good care and they enjoy riding around in your pocket and would be willing to do it all day. They can’t really be housebroken, they do have sharp teeth and claws and it will take a great deal of time and patience to get them to the point where they are considered cuddly.

You have to learn their strict dietary requirements or you could lose them. Monkey biscuits, cooked potato, sweet potato or squash, fresh fruit and vegetables, a bit of mixed frozen vegetables, lettuce or other greens, fruit juice and honey, yogurt, babyfood, baby cereal, gliderade powder, modified leadbeater’s mix, crickets, mealworms, cooked chicken, turkey fish or tofu, in small amounts are part of a healthy daily diet. So although they are little creatures, you need to be able to provide the good diet and time in order in have healthy, happy creature.

A cage 24 by 24 inches, by 36 inches high is a good size for a pair of gliders. Remember that bigger is better and height is more important than floor space. Have lots of toys, branches, ropes and ladders for exercise and fun.

Sugar gliders are marsupials and grow in a pouch on their mother’s abdomen, just like a Kangaroo. They prefer to be in a pair, but it is suggested that you either have a same sex pair or a neutered male and female to avoid constant breeding and any aggressiveness breeding might cause. It is best to get two young ones at the same time. Also plan on being a night owl when you have a nocturnal pet, as the glider is most active during the night. They will enjoy sleeping in a pocket or pouch during the day with you and play at night.

While some gliders will return to their owners after gliding, some will not, no matter how bonded they are to you. Each glider, like each person, cat or dog, has a different personality. Some are content to just stay with you while others prefer to play and explore the world, returning to you occasionally to make sure you are still there. And be prepared to be bitten or gnawed at. This is normal and even though no one knows why they do this, it is assumed they are telling you they are hungry or bored. Most grow out of it. If you blow on them when they go to bite you and say NO, or distract them with a treat of some kind, it should help eventually.

If a sugar glider is not already tame when acquired, it will take patience and time and frequent training sessions in order to have a chance at bonding with its owner. Remember that they do not respond to punishment or domination – they need to be treated with respect, understanding and gentleness. This again is no guarantee that they will be the pet you want them to be, because the bottom line is that they are wild animals, not bred to be pets, and therefore, unpredictable.

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