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Possum Fur Trade History New Zealand

Home Possum Fur Trade History New Zealand

grey possum fur blanket

There’s no telling to what lengths people will go in order to gain monetary, governmental, or personal benefit. In many instances, worldwide land, wildlife, and the ecological system itself have reaped the disastrous fruit from the seed of havoc planted by these greedy acts done by mankind. This happens all too often in this world and, unfortunately, is no exception in the current modern day of possum fur trade in  New Zealand.

The Australian Brushtail Possum was first shipped over from Australia’s shore to be released in New Zealand in 1837 and became fully established in the environment in 1858. The original intent was to commence a fur trade industry which was expected to bring booming industry throughout the growing land of New Zealand. The tradesmen, who were colonial forefathers of New Zealand, were unfortunately extremely ignorant of the horrible implications these possums would bring to the balance of their delicate ecosystem.

This marsupial thrives in New Zealand’s lush habitat with no predators, with the exception of mankind, to keep a natural balance. It did not take long for the possum to compete with the native plants and animals surviving in the shared habitat. This has only brought destruction and, in some cases, endangerment of species. Having no self-control, the possum consumes the leaves of entire trees which leaves the poor trees nothing to photosynthesize off of and eventually they die before their naturally allotted time. These creatures also find their select choices of nourishment before other animals, who consume the same food. On a larger scale, this could eventually cause some forest canopies to collapse. The more these animals miss out on their essentials to life the sooner the time will come that we will see the entire degradation of many species of plants and animals throughout the beautiful country of New Zealand.

possum on a tree branchAlthough possums are primarily vegetarian, observations have been made that they also tend to enjoy the occasional bird egg or even baby chick along with different kinds of insects. This has given them the name of “reluctant folivores”. This means that they survive on foliage, and consume other food types every-so-often. The habits of the Australian Brushtail Possum have put species of birds, such as the Tui, Kereru, and the already endangered Kokako, in more danger than they have ever been in the history of their being. Currently, there are so many angles against this precious animal. The possum is a beautiful animal and should never have been put into this position of survival in a land that is not its own, only to be hated and hunted.

The primary purpose that the possum was brought over to New Zealand’s green rolling hills was to begin a regular business of hunting and skinning of their hyde to sell the fur for trade and significant profit. Acclimatization Societies first released 36 batches of possums between the years 1858-1921. The possums were allotted that specific time frame for multiplication before the hunting began. After 1921 further release was prohibited. Records show that 21 grey possums were released in the South Island near Dunedin in 1894. After only 18 years well over 10,000 possum skins were taken from that area during the temporary regulation lift of 1912. This is a tremendous jump in population and perhaps should have been the warning signal needed, but revelation did not come so easily.

trapped possumIt was not long before heavily licensed possum trapping commenced and became legal for three months annually. Despite this decree, poaching continued throughout the entirety of the year. When numbers grew uncontrollable it seems the government finally had enough. In 1946 all regulations were completely lifted and the possum was declared to be a noxious pest. The New Zealand Department of Conservation and National Possum Control Agencies declared possums pests and encourage the eradication in hopes this would control the population numbers. It was soon obvious that this plan was coming to a very different outcome. Once this occurrence took place, the New Zealand government had come to terms in realizing this animal would never be eradicated.

Now, the primary goal morphed to be recovering the balance with the native wildlife of New Zealand. $80 million of the government’s annual income is used for possum control around the country. Besides the three months legal hunting season, government workers are set out to use 1080 poison in areas where the possum population is more substantial. This type of poison is prohibited in some countries around the world. When the government sweeps through to poison the helpless creatures, the remains of the animals are thrown away in the bush and left to rot.

An unfortunate alternative to the fur trade is to use their meat. It is not likely to be found on a menu, possum meat is not often eaten by humans except in select Asian countries. Some possum meat is sent from strictly controlled areas to Taiwan, Hong Kong, and Malaysia and is being served as a delicacy called “Kiwi Bear”. A small amount of possum meat is used for cat and dog food. This meat is harvested only from the TB and poison free areas. Laws regarding using possum meat have now been changed. However, they continue to be under strict conditions. Fertility control has been suggested as an alternative to eradicate the possum population more slowly over time in hopes that using more natural means would prove to be more effective and simultaneously more humane.
The fur industry is an extreme and cruel way to balance the numbers of the population of possums in New Zealand. Labeled as “ethical fur”, the extremists involved in this act of species eradication, attempts to change people’s’ perspectives in favor of their own objective as a ploy to destroy the possum population once and for all, or to allow the business of fur trade to continually flourish. Despite all this, the solution is not necessarily to outlaw the possum industry. This would take away the incentive for possum hunting which, in turn, would greatly increase governmental effort and budget for possum control, meaning extensive mass slaughter by poison and other means.

possum on a tree branchFarmers are likely one of the people groups most affected by this controversial epidemic. It is a well-known fact that possums are carriers of the bovine Tuberculosis virus. This is extremely threatening to the farming industries raising cattle and deer. In their best efforts, possum control programs have reduced TB levels in deer and cattle herds by 60% in the last five years. There are roughly 30-40 million possums and they typically devour nearly 8 million tons of vegetation every year. With all these negativities against the possum, unfortunately, the line is thinly drawn between the morality focus of both the Australian Brushtail Possum and the health and safety of people, plants, and other animals of New Zealand. On average, 1.5 million possums are killed each year due to the fur trade industry. This is not a huge dent in the overall population, thus forcing the government of New Zealand to seek drastic measures for the betterment of their people and ecological system.

There is not yet a concrete solution to this unique situation that plagues the minds and sanity of the New Zealand government, people, and ecosystem. The decisions we make in life can drastically alter broader reaches of humanity and nature more than we can possibly even realize in our own lifetime. To choose life also comes with the conundrum of which life is the priority to choose when the lives being hunted are the ones causing the annihilation of more lives and bringing the possibility of complete destruction. Life is full of choices. Let us learn from those of our forefathers and move forward into a better tomorrow.