Pet of the week: The sugar glider

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The Independent Online

I've never even heard of a sugar glider

As pets go, this one really is out of the most exotic drawer. It is a squirrel-like, nocturnal marsupial found in Australia, Indonesia and Papua New Guinea, where it spends time climbing up trees, spreading itself out like a big furry handkerchief and gliding down to the next tree. It is the BASE jumper of the sub-tropical canopy.

Wow – sounds like a bit of a handful in the home

Sugar gliders are definitely for people who know what they are doing, but like any animal, if you are prepared to commit time and effort (these critters can live up to 12 years) they are very rewarding and build strong bonds with humans. Steve Allen, who is one of the UK's leading authorities on gliders, says: "They're very intelligent, and behave a bit like kittens." That said, "They are definitely not for children – they have quite sharp little claws."

Not much bush tucker round here

Sugar gliders like to eat exotic fruits, and their diet is crucial – they can be quite fussy eaters. Steve recommends a mix of about 40 per cent protein (mealworms, pinkies, fresh chicken), and 60 per cent fruit and veg, with occasional handfuls of dietary mix. But they are used to foraging for their food, which makes them inquisitive little creatures, and they like to climb up on things (furniture, shoulders, etc) and have a good look round. They never like to dawdle on the ground.

So where do they sleep?

As they are nocturnal, they sleep during the day in their cage. The cage is very important for them, and must be at least four foot square and as tall as possible. You'll need to provide plenty of branches for your gliders to hang from and toys for them to play with. Steve uses a converted aviary in a spare room (they aren't noisy or smelly creatures). As far as sleeping quarters are concerned, there's nothing your average glider likes more than a nice cosy pouch to snuggle up in all day. What better place to see out this cold weather.

How wild are they?

Their natural instincts are still very much intact, even in captivity, so don't expect them to be docile or want constant cuddling. Although they sleep most of the day, they thrive on interaction and will seek out human company for a few hours in the evening, and will become very attached to their owners. This social behaviour is another link with their ancestral past and colonial instincts. For this reason they must be kept in pairs (of the same sex if you are not breeding), as playing and feeding rituals are vital to their welfare.

Where can I find out more?

Steve's excellent website gives all the advice you will need, plus sound clips of sugar gliders barking and chirping. Once you hear those, you'll be hooked.