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Why New Zealand hates possums

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“One of the greatest threats to our natural environment.”

Something that shocks backpackers when they arrive in the wonderful wildlife-filled country of New Zealand is that the Kiwis have a hate for all cute and fluffy four-legged creatures. Rabbits, hedgehogs and cats are all considered pests in New Zealand, but most hated of all is the possum. It may seem extra shocking if arriving in New Zealand from Australia where the Australian possum is a protected species. Here, possum’s most preferred form is either as some warm furry gloves or flattened on the road. In fact, the Department of Conservation (DoC) describes possums as, “one of the greatest threats to our natural environment.”

So why is there no possum love in New Zealand?

Not only does the introduced mammal chomp through 20000 tonnes of vegetation a night, but their population has increased at an alarming rate to around 70 million currently in New Zealand! Whole canopies of trees have disappeared at the mercy of the possum.

In turn, native bird species, many of which are endangered, have to compete with possums for food, which also isn’t helped by possums eating native bird eggs and chicks. For instance, they have been reported to eat young kea parrots and kiwi eggs.

Kiwi farmers are pretty pissed too, due to possums being a carrier of bovine tuberculosis – a disease that affects cows and deer.

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A history of possums in New Zealand

The possums’ life in New Zealand began when they were introduced for the fur trade in 1987 from Australia where they are a protected species. In their native land, possums fit in with the ecosystem where they are threatened by dingoes, bush fires and less vegetation for dinner.

But the nocturnal species have been living the high life in New Zealand where there is plenty of shelter and varied food supplies, all the while not being threatened by any predator but man. The only place not possum-worthy is in the rainy mountainous regions of Fiordland.

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The National Possum Control Agency (NPCA)

That’s right, New Zealand has an agency dedicated to the possum. A number of different governing bodies have combined efforts to eradicate the possums. The members are:

  • DoC provides resources of possum control to priority areas of New Zealand.
  • TBFree New Zealand aims to get rid of bovine tuberculosis from farmed cattle and deer, which involves stopping possums carrying the disease.
  • Regional councils have an obligation to control possums in rural and urban areas for health and environmental reasons.
  • Ministry of Primary Industries are responsible for biosecurity in New Zealand, so are involved due to the disease threat of possums. You will definitely deal with these guys when you arrive in a New Zealand airport from overseas.

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How to help with the possum problem

While on your working holiday in New Zealand, there are some suggested ways to help with the nation’s possum problem.

  • If you see a possum on the road while driving, the general rule is to run it over instead of slowing down or trying to avoid them.
  • Buy souvenirs made from possum fur – the trade they were originally introduced in New Zealand for! You’ll find all sorts of things from possum fur gloves to possum, ehem, nipple warmers.
  • While WWOOFing you might get the chance to go possum hunting with your host.
  • Volunteer for conservation efforts like the DoC to help set up pest traps.

Other mammals considered pests in New Zealand

What might be considered as a cute or harmless animal elsewhere isn’t quite thought of the same way in New Zealand. These are other wild animals that damage the ecosystem of New Zealand.

  • Rats
  • Mice
  • Rabbits
  • Hedgehogs
  • Stoats
  • Cats
  • Deer
  • Goats
  • Pigs
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