Social media star Matt Mathews is pleading for the return of his sick pet opossum after Alabama wildlife officials took it.
Mathews was at work when the Alabama Department of Conservation and Natural Resources showed up at his house to take his 4-year-old opossum named Donovan away on Friday, according to his Instagram.
Wildlife officials became aware that Mathew was holding a opossum captive after they “received complaints from the public about the health and care of the animal,” the department told McClatchy News.
“Possession of captive wildlife is illegal under Alabama law,” the agency said. “These laws were adopted to protect the health and safety of the public and to ensure the best interests of the wildlife.”
Mathews, who lives in Birmingham, is a popular boudoir photographer and a three-time world-qualifying barrel racer, according to his Instagram page. He has more than 56,000 Instagram followers.
Mathews started re-homing opossums four years ago after he noticed how “kind, loving and misunderstood” these animals were, he wrote on Instagram. He then began learning how to properly care for opossums “because their diets and lifestyles are so unique.”
“Wildlife have specialized dietary, and habitat needs that generally cannot be met by members of the public,” the wildlife agency told McClatchy News. “In addition, some species carry an increased risk of diseases for humans and domestic pets. Other species have natural traits that lead them to become aggressive as they get older regardless of the care they have received.”
Although Mathews has admitted that taking care of a opossum is illegal, “release was never an option because of his debilitating disease,” he said on Instagram.
“The animal is very sick, has difficulty eating, breathing, and moving and cannot exercise its own bodily functions without assistance,” the wildlife agency said.
Donovan has metabolic bone disease where his bones and joints are fused “from being fed too much protein and not enough calcium,” Mathews said.
“When he arrived to me as a baby he could barely walk,” he said on Instagram. “After years of care, I was successfully able to rehab him and almost reverse his (disease). “He spent 4 amazing years with me, my family and he IS such a big part of my life.”
The opossum was taken to a wildlife biologist where he will be examined by a veterinarian, the wildlife agency said.