Is Possum Control Out of Control?
If one of New Zealand’s thirty million possums runs across the road here, you are encouraged not to swerve, but to actively aim your wheels at it. Kids on long car trips pass the time by gleefully counting roadkill.
In Australia, the closest large country to New Zealand, the opposite is true and the possum is a protected species.
Why the difference?
The answer lies with other species. In New Zealand, unlike Australia, the possum has no natural predators. Here, it is the predator. New Zealand is home to a large native bird population, many of which are ground-dwelling. They lost the ability to fly because there was no danger to fly away from. Not until the rats found their way here. Not until the possum was introduced to kick off a fur trade. Now, apparently, 26 million birds are killed by introduced pests EVERY YEAR.
What is New Zealand doing about it, apart from making possums into roadkill as often as possible? Apart from trapping and hunting and shooting them, and then getting your kids to dress them in fancy dress (only click that link of you’re made of stern stuff!). This is where things get really interesting…
The answer is ‘1080 Poison’ , dropped by helicopter into the forests. It effectively wipes out 98% of possums in a targeted area. The Wikipedia article says: “In general, the majority of conservationists and livestock farmers support the continued use of 1080 for pest control while the hunting community, animal rights groups and anti-fluoride campaigners support a ban. There are, however, exceptions on both sides.”
But if you watch this video I stumbled across today, you’ll see the horrific effects of ‘1080 Poison’ – “enough poison every year to kill the entire population of New Zealand – 4 times over”. It doesn’t just kill pests. It kills deer, cows, horses and sheep too. Very slowly and painfully.
Whatever side of the fence you come down on, it looks like the introduction of possums for the fur trade was one of the worst decisions New Zealand ever made. (And not so good for the possums either).