Environment

The Brushtail Possum and The Environment

Introduced into New Zealand from Australia in 1837 European settlers saw the common brushtail possum as a wild source of food, fibre and fur pelts for clothing.

Demand for possum fur fell, its value dropped to uneconomic levels and the numbers of possums dramatically increased. They have now reached epidemic proportions with millions of possums munching their way through tonnes of vegetation nightly, decimating New Zealand's native bush and bird life.

With no predators, New Zealand's bush is defenceless against possums. Possums are a serious threat that has spread to 92% of New Zealand's three main islands and, with their habitat destroyed by the possum, many native trees, plants and birdlife, including the kiwi, are under threat of extinction.

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Possums, Destructive and Spreaders of Bovine TB

Possums are extremely destructive and not only do they damage native forest, kill millions of native birds and chicks a year, they also spread bovine tuberculosis to cows.

Possums have been seen killing or eating eggs, chicks, or adults of at least five native birds including kōkako and kūkupa (native pigeon). With native vegetation, at one end of the scale possums have little effect on simple beech forest with few preferred species. At the other end, possums cause catastrophic die back or major compositional shifts in rata, pohutukawa, or kamahi dominated types according to Landcare Research.

Control measures saw the New Zealand possum population reduced to an estimated 30 million in 2009, from a peak in the1980s of an estimated 60-70 million.