A pesky pest
There are about 30 million possums in New Zealand - that's about 7 per person! Possums will munch through around 9,000 tonnes of leaves, berries and fruit every night.
Possums are not native to New Zealand.
• The first possums were brought to New Zealand in 1837 from Australia. • Possums are native to Australia and are protected there. • Many trees in Australia have possum defences such as spines, prickles or poisonous leaves – ours don’t! • Possums in Australia have a lot more parasites, and more predators than in New Zealand. In New Zealand possums have no natural enemies. That is why possum numbers increased so fast. The possum is not protected in New Zealand, it is a pest. The possum is doing a lot of damage to the native plants, animals and birds.
So why did people bring possums to New Zealand?
Possums were brought to New Zealand to start a fur industry. At the height of the fur trade, trappers killed 20 million possums in a year. But that did not make much of a dent in possum numbers. Possum numbers can build up quickly because every mother possum has a baby each year.
People didn't realise the harm possums would cause to the forest and the wildlife would be much greater than any value their fur provided!
Possums like to eat the juicy new growth on trees - it is very hard for the tree to grow when all of its new growth is being eaten. In New Zealand forests possums will go back to the same tree night after night, eating the tree to death. They love eating our native trees such as our pohutukawa, rata, totara, kowhai and kohekohe.
Because possums are eating native trees they are eating the food of New Zealand native birds - this is not good for the birds.
• browse on and kill native and exotic trees, feeding on leaves and berries and stripping bark • browse and damage orchard trees, shelter belts, crops and pasture • feed on native birds (eggs, fledglings and...