The Independent - 27 December 2006

Possums may be cute, with their pointy ears and bushy tails, they are even a protected species in their native Australia, but in New Zealand they are regarded as enemy number one. There are now about 70 million of them, compared with 4 million humans. As well as eating an estimated 21,000 tones of vegetation nightly, they steal the chicks and eggs of endangered birds. They destroy entire tree species and compete with native birds, such as the iconic kiwi, for food and habitat.

 

The battle to elimate them and save native birds and plants, is being fought on many fronts. Hunters trap and shoot them; the government-funded Department of Conservation poisons whole populations by dropping toxins from the air. Possums are also targeted by the Animal Health Board, another official agency, because they spread bovine tuberculosis.

 

Now local entrepreneurs are doing their bit by creating a thriving trade in possum products. The pelts are made into handbags, muffs, stoles, vests, chair covers and even mobile phone holders, as well as more conventional jackets, hats and scarves. The fur is used for trims and collars and spun with merino wool to produce absurdly warm sweaters similar to mohair. Possum-skin gloves are sought after by sailors and golfers; Tiger Woods is said to swear by them. The meat is fed to dogs and exported to Asia, where it is considered an aphrodisiac.

 

The anti-fur lobby is perfectly happy and there are fewer pests ravaging the New Zealand landscape. The higher the demand for possum products, the more incentive there is for hunters to go out and kill them.