In a nutshell...
- The Australian Brushtail Possum (Trichosorus vulpecula) was introduced into New Zealand in the late 1800s to establish an export fur trade.
- Only 200-300 animals were released in about 20 locations and now the population is quoted as 70 million.
- The exercise was an ecological disaster and there is no way New Zealand will ever eliminate the possum. Control is the only hope.
- Possums kill native wildlife (young birds and eggs) and are vectors (carriers) of bovine tuberculosis which is an enormous threat to our meat and dairy exports.
- At present, only a small proportion of possums carry Tb, but they can also spread it to other wild vectors such as stoats, weasels, pigs and deer.
- The fear is that infected possums will spread Tb to non-infected possums (eg. in Northland) and this will incorporate other wildlife to make control difficult and expensive.
- Control at present means use of traps, shooting and poison (cyanide and 1080).
- Use of 1080 is most popular but is a highly contentious issue among conservationists, farmers, Forest and Bird members and politicians.
- Greatest hope for a solution lies with genetic engineering a means of controlling their fertility.
How can you tell if you have a problem?
- Severe defoliation of trees in the bush, especially Northern Rata.
- Dead trees (especially Northern Rata) in the bush canopy - clearly visible from the air.
- Fruit trees in gardens being robbed at nights.
- Possum dung pellets around trees bearing fruit or flowers.
- Rubbish bins being searched for fruit.
- The spring buds on roses being eaten with fur left on the thorns.
- Many possums seen on pastures and in the trees at night.
- Tb infected possums being found (showing cheesy lymph nodes under arms and back legs).
- Possums hissing and squawking at night and running over the roof.
- Clear tracks from the bush into the paddocks. Fur on the fence wire.
- Sick (dopey) possums seen out in the paddocks during daytime.
How can you tell if you're doing well?
- Regeneration of native bush, and no dead trees in the canopy.
- Possums not doing damage in gardens.
- No sign or sound of possums near dwellings.
- Control and reduction of Tb endemic areas.
- No new outbreaks of Tb in Tb-clear areas.
- Stock owners carrying out all requirements of the Animal Health Board for Tb control and prevention.
What can you do to improve things?
- Make sure all cattle and deer on the farm are Tb tested when requested by AgrQuality who are contractors to MAF.
- Before moving stock off the property make sure all documentation and tagging has been done. Each bovine animal must carry two tags.
- Before moving stock away to another farm for grazing, check the Tb status of the farm they are going to. Check with AgriQuality for this information.
- When stock come back from grazing, check with AgriQuality about when tests are needed. They may have to be tested before they come home.
- Do not purchase stock or have them delivered to your property without the correct documentation. Check with AgriQuality.
- Make sure AgiQuality know about all cattle and deer on your property.
- Control possums on your property and co-operate with neighbours who are doing likewise.
- Report any sick or dopey possum to AgrQuality without delay- and do not touch it incase it has Tb.
- Take great care when using poisons that they are used correctly with minimal risk to other animals (domestic or wild). Document any poisons purchased and where used.
- You need a license to use a firearm. Make sure your legal obligations have been covered.
- There are a wide range of possum traps. Use one which is humane and cannot catch other animals. Jaw traps if used should be fixed on a tree well off the ground.
Where can you go for help?
- Regional Councils
- County Councils
- Federated Farmers of NZ
- Ministry of Agriculture and Forestry
- Department of Conservation
- Animal Health Board