Unlike most mothers, Kim Jim doesn't mind it when you say that her new baby looks a little squirrely.
That's because Precious, her new baby, does look like a squirrel.
But she's not. Actually, she's a small arboreal marsupial known as a "sugar glider" so named for her species' ability to smoothly glide through the air like a flying squirrel. Just like Precious attempted to do throughout the course of a recent visit by a photographer who discovered that capturing a sugar glider on film is not unlike trying to catch a lightning bolt with your hand before it hits the ground.
The sugar glider has a tiny pink, pig-like nose, a striped five-inch body attached to a five-inch tail, and a face that even the most demanding mother could love.
"Most folks think I'm nuts, but they also fall in love with Precious as soon as they see her," Jim said. "They all want one now."
Jim was introduced to sugar gliders by a National Geographic television program. Not long after she saw that show, she happened upon another which detailed the many reasons why sugar gliders make perfect house pets. Jim was hooked on sugar gliders.
She promptly found a Valley breeder on the Internet, endured a lengthy interview process, shelled out $150, and came home with a pouch hanging from her neck.
Inside the pouch was Precious. Because she is a member of the same order that includes kangaroos, opossum, wombats and Tasmanian devils, all of which mature in their mothers' pouch, Precious loves nothing more than the comfort and warmth of that sack.
"I'm actually her mother now," Jim said. "I carry her around in it all day long and take care of her. I'm in real estate, and I actually sold two houses last week by having her, so she's a tax write-off. She's entertainment."
A nocturnal creature, Precious sleeps most of the day and barks like a dog most of the night. When she gets mad which occurs whenever thoughtless humans disturb her sleep Precious makes a bizarre noise.
At mealtime, which seems to arrive whenever Precious opens her eyes, her favorite foods are string cheese, watermelon, scrambled eggs, applesauce, cantaloupe, baby food, sweet potatoes and chicken with gravy.
The sugar glider (Petaurus breviceps) is most common to the forest treetops of Australia and, in their native habitat, often live in groups of 20 to 40, hunt for insects and small vertebrates, and feed on the sweet sap of eucalyptus, acacia and gum trees.
Like flying squirrels, sugar gliders travel through the treetops by leaping into the air and transforming themselves into a living kite by spreading out their sails of skin called a patagium that extend between their front and back legs. They can make glides of more than 150 feet, using their long tails as rudders.
The experience of owning a sugar glider as a house pet was perhaps best summed up by Jim in this unedited quote:
"She nips, but nothing major ... Ow! ... She's very quick ... Where did you go? Oh, you're on my back ... Ow! ... I haven't let her loose in the house yet, because I have a cat. But I have let her loose in a tent ... (Precious flies off Jim's shoulder to the ground) ... Oops! Where did she go! ... There she is ... Oh, you're scared, aren't you, honey? ... Uh-oh! She's peeing! Better get a paper towel ... Did you see her try to bite me? Don't bite me, baby."
One last question. What's the longest flight Precious has taken?
"You just saw it," said Jim as she chased her new baby across the floor.
Think before you adopt a sugar glider
The charming sugar glider is fast becoming a popular household pet in North America. Indeed, they have many of the characteristics of the perfect pet in that they are clean, personable, attractive and relatively quiet. Their housing and dietary requirements are easy to cater to. They are hardy and don't have a lot of health problems.
But while sugar gliders really do make great pets, think before you buy a glider and consider the consequences to yourself as well as the glider:
Do I have enough time to consistently care for the glider?
Can I provide the glider with a reasonably large cage? Can I afford the vet bills if my glider becomes ill?
Is anyone in the household allergic to animal fur?
How will existing pets react to a sugar glider?
Will my husband/wife divorce me if I bring home another pet?
While owning a sugar glider is a rewarding experience, it IS a long term commitment.