Grandfather Mountain's 'Fern' the opossum dies

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GRANDFATHER MOUNTAIN, N.C. - Grandfather Mountain’s most popular marsupial has passed away. Fern the opossum was humanely put to rest after veterinarians discovered a large tumor in her abdomen, according to a release.

Fern arrived at Grandfather Mountain in September 2012 at four months old. She was orphaned when her mother was hit by a car and was originally raised by a wildlife rehabilitator.

Because she was imprinted to be around humans, she could not be released back into the wild. Fern lived off-display, inside the Habitats office and a fenced area outdoors.

According to the release, Fern lived an active life on Grandfather Mountain, participating in numerous educational programs to teach visitors about one of North America's only marsupials.

Habitat staff noticed Thursday that Fern was having trouble breathing and took her Friday to veterinarian Dr. Lee Bolt in Asheville. The doctor found a large, cancerous tumor on the X-rays that was pressing against Fern’s lungs and other organs.

"I got really attached to Fern," said Emma Schlagal, assistant habitats curator for Grandfather Mountain. "People still think that they're gross, but it's good to let them see what they're like and that they're not that scary."

Fern occasionally displayed strange behavior, including climbing onto the desk in the Habitats office and rubbing her neck against the phone. Her pursuits were chronicled in a video titled "Phoning with Fern."

Fern would have been two years old in May, and most opossums in the wild live about two years.