I suspect that sugar gliders are about to explode onto the American pet market in a really big way.
Because the motion picture Dr. Dolittle (starring Robert Downey Jr.) has a sugar glider in it. Much like the Harry Potter films led to a rise in the trafficking of black-market owls, Dr. Dolittle will more than likely draw attention to what is, at the moment, still a fairly rare pet.
I have two sugar gliders, both male. They’re four years old, and while their names are officially Bela and Boris, they go by many, many monikers: The booger-brats, the fuzz-butts, Opey and Dopey, Tweedledee and Tweedledum, Thing One and Thing Two, Dumb and Dumber…
Sugar gliders are basically flying squirrels. Actual flying squirrels are rodents, with a lifespan of two to four years; sugar gliders are marsupials, with a lifespan (in captivity) of twelve to fifteen years. Sugar gliders are considered exotic animals, and are not legal in all areas (or they may require special permits to posses).
Sugar gliders make great pets. They’re inquisitive, playful, and – being ‘colony animals’ – are capable of bonding with human beings. That having been said…
One must be aware that taking care of them can be very challenging, and they should not be acquired lightly!!!
For starters, sugar gliders are omnivores… which basically means they’ll eat anything you put in front of them! But just because they will eat anything you put in front of them doesn’t mean they should. The dangers of an unbalanced diet include hind-leg paralysis, extreme lethargy, and aggression. While there are some decent commercial kibbles and vitamins available, they should still be supplemented with fresh treats. There are also tried-and-true diets which use fresh fruits, vegetables, and chicken as a base. But my point is this: Strict attention must be paid to what gliders are eating! They’re not hamsters; you can’t just throw kibble into their bowl and call it a day.
Second of all – and this is most important – one must remember that sugar gliders are basically wild animals, and they take time and patience to socialize! It can take months of slow, careful training to bring gliders to the point at which they can be easily handled and will interact willingly with humans. It’s often one step forward and two steps back, and no two gliders will be the same. One may bond fairly well, while another may always be a bit stand-offish… and during the socialization process, you are going to get bitten once in a while.
At the end of the day, you get what you get.
Also, sugar gliders require a long-term commitment! One should never purchase a single glider; they are social animals, and in extreme cases they could get so lonely that they self-mutilate. And since sugar gliders are nocturnal, they need a buddy to play with at night while you’re sleeping.
I also recommend buying another pair of gliders before one’s first pair gets too old. (And yes, introducing the two pairs is another long process.) Why? Because a glider whose buddy has just passed may become so distraught that he’ll hurt himself before you can replace the one that died. Simply put: Given the overlap in life spans, you’re gonna have sugar gliders around for a long, long time.
Gliders should never be left out unsupervised. Thus, the kind thing to do is make sure that they have a massive cage, big enough to run around and jump in, with exercise wheels and things to climb on. It requires a fair amount of space to keep the little guys happy.
Furthermore, gliders have some quirks about which one must be aware. One is this: They can be very, very noisy if they want to! Mine are generally pretty quiet, except when I stay up late and then go to bed while they’re still up playing. I think what runs through their heads goes something like this: Uh-oh, Daddy jumped out of the tree! Must be an owl’s after him. Quick! Start barking so he can find his way back home!
A sugar glider’s bark carries a quarter of a mile. Trust me, there’s no sleeping through it!
Gliders are lovable and fun pets. I certainly recommend them, but only if one is committed to properly caring for them! One must be thorough in researching what they need, and yes… I’ve only scratched the surface here today.
I hope Dr. Dolittle doesn’t cause an uptick in frivolously-purchased, poorly-cared-for gliders. I take comfort from the fact that they are very expensive, which kinda weeds out the ‘impulse purchasers’. Unfortunately, you can buy them from a dodgy, unlicensed breeder for a couple of hundred (American) dollars apiece. But a licensed, reputable breeder (one who has the males neutered) will charge up to five or six hundred for a glider. Also, a reputable breeder will insist on selling a proper cage along with the gliders. (Gliders can sustain damage to their feet, or even get zinc poisoning from the wrong cage.)
So there you have it: Sugar Gliders. About the coolest little guys going, in my book…
IF you take proper care of them!