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The History of Possums in New Zealand

Oct 18, 2017 0 comments

When our colonial New Zealand fore-fathers introduced possums to New Zealand they had no idea of the terrible impact that possums would have on the delicate natural balance of the native New Zealand eco-system.

The Australian Brushtail Possum (which is very different from the American Opossum) was first released into New Zealand in 1837, becoming successfully established around 1858.

This was done with the express purpose of establishing a commercial fur trade.

Without natural predators, this furry cat-sized marsupial thrived in the lush New Zealand native bush and quickly become a major ecological problem killing native trees and competing with native animals and birds for food.

Initially in the early day’s possum's where protected to allow their numbers to increase for the fur trade.

There where 36 batches of possums imported and released into New Zealand mostly by the Acclimatisation Societies between 1858 until about 1921 when the New Zealand Government prohibited further releases.

There are records that show a release of 21 grey possums into an area of the South Island near Dunedin in 1894, when the regulations where temporarily lifted.

In 1912 over 10,000 possum skins where taken from that very same area in a very brief time period. So in only 18 years the population in that limited area had exploded demonstrating how well the possum had adapted to the New Zealand bush.

Opossum skins drying in the sun, circa September 1930 Ref: PAColl-5469-022

Opossum skins drying in the sun. New Zealand Free Lance : Photographic prints and negatives. Ref: PAColl-5469-022. Alexander Turnbull Library, Wellington, New Zealand. /records/22762003

Full protection was relaxed and the law changed so that possum trapping was heavily licensed and regulated to only 3 months of the year, although poaching still happened all year round.

By 1946 all regulations where lifted and possums where declared a noxious pest in New Zealand.


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