Saturday, October 10, 2009

CONSERVATION: Ecological Effects of the New Zealand Brushtail Possum

By Russell Dalzell

The Brushtail Possum (Trichosurus vulpecula) was first brought to New Zealand from Australia in 1837 with a view to establishing a fur trade. Until 1940 the possum was protected from hunting to maintain the population. However the possum was a very successful animal in New Zealand conditions. Without any natural predators the population quickly rose and the animals spread across much of the country.

With the rising numbers of possums the destruction of the native and exotic habitats which it invaded became more and more clear. When studies began to show that the possum was a major carrier of bovine tuberculosis and was implicated in the spread of the disease to farm animals, such as cattle and deer, the possum was finally recognised for the pest it certainly is in New Zealand.

Possums are omnivorous, feeding on trees, shrubs, pasture and even bird eggs and insects. They are selective browsers of native trees and alter the ecosystems in which they live. Possums strip the foliage from mature trees and then return to eat the new growth frequently with the result that the tree dies. They have also been filmed attacking Kiwi nests and eating the eggs and young.

The fur is quite unusual in that it is essentially a hollow tube that traps air which makes it by weight one of the lightest yet warmest natural furs on the market today. Possum fur won't freeze and is very similar to the fur of the Polar Bear. Unlike wool fibres the fur of the possum is smooth which gives that silky luxurious feeling like Mink.

The New Zealand Government through the Dept of Conservation has an active control programme mainly through the use of strategic drops of 1080 poison (sodium monofloroacetate). The bulk of the possums however are killed by private enterprise through trapping, poisoning and shooting. It is by this method that we see the biggest benefit to our flora and fauna as there is no bi-kill of other species. 1080 does tend to kill other species. Especially at risk are pet dogs or Wekas (native ground dwelling bird) feeding on poisoned carcases.

It is extremely important that private enterprise is encouraged to continue and by your purchase of a possum product you are doing your bit to help stem the tide of destruction in New Zealand. It is our intention that by educating people about the damage the New Zealand Brushtail Possum is doing to our environment we can help to save and protect many endangered species.

Russell Dalzell Possum Pam NZ Ltd October 2009. We are New Zealands leading supplier of possum products and we are actively involved in promoting the reduction of possum numbers in New Zealand.

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