My grandmother had a pet possum. In fact several generations of the same possum family came to her roof early each evening to be fed. When we arrived to visit she would tell us not to be alarmed if we heard a bang on the roof around 3 am, that would just be the possum. These pets of hers never had a name and any hand other than Gran's that put out food for them on the low overhang of the back porch would be badly scratched.
I found it hard to accept when I first came to New Zealand that here possums are pests. In their home environment they are as one with nature and create no problems. But what is a loved native animal in Australia has become a hated pest here in New Zealand. A major agricultural and conservation pest.
Blame the early European settlers who wanted to establish a wild source for food and fibre and fur pelts for clothing and so they introduced the common brushtail possum from Australia in the 1850s; by the 1980s the peak population had reached an estimated 60-70 million. Today there are estimated to be 10 million possums here in Northland where I live and they are doing awful damage to our native forests.
Possums eat native vegetation causing damage to trees. This leads to competition for food with native forest birds. Possums are opportunists and will eat the eggs of native birds and chicks. They eat foliage to survive but prefer other foods.
They also carry bovine tuberculosis which is a major threat to the dairy, beef and deer farming industries.
So now I don't blink an eye when my grand-daughter and her young friend, Devlin tell me they are going to make some money shooting possums, although I was bit squeamish wondering how many they would have to skin to make it worth the cost of the bullets. No, no they tell me, they intend to sell the fur. Apparently you can pluck them like a chicken if you do it while they are still warm. I figure shooting is a lot more humane than trapping or poisoning and encourage them in their endeavours.
Can you make out the fur at the bottom of the bag?
The young entrepreneurs tell me it takes between 15 to 20 possums for a kilo of fur and they expect to get about $110 per kilo. When they called in to show me their haul so far they had shot 22 possums so were on their way to their second fortune.
They were also in a hurry to show me their latest victim (before it cooled down) which they noticed was looking quite comfortable when they threw it on the back of the quad bike.
I'm wondering if I should tell them some N Z companies are exporting possum carcasses to Taiwan, Hong Kong and Malaysia for human consumption, where possum is regarded as a delicacy and known as "Kiwi bear". There is also a small industry processing possum meat as 'Possyum' dog food, also for export.
Something I stumbled upon when trying to find out the going price on possum carcasses (gave up), you can study for a Bachelor of Entrepreneurship Degree at Waikato University and even carry on for a Masters (offered by the University of Adelaide in Australia).