Sunday, 22 April 2012

Possum pest feeds thriving New Zealand fur industry


The brushtail possum has become a feral pest, its fur providing a lucrative sideline for hunters who supply a burgeoning luxury goods industry.

The brushtail possum, a cuddly-looking marsupial protected in its native Australia, has become a reviled feral pest in New Zealand, its fur providing a lucrative sideline for hunters who supply a burgeoning luxury goods industry.
 
"It's a hard living and it's not for everyone," trapper Stu Flett says as he hangs possum carcasses from a clothes line at his home in the North Island to dry their fur before it is stripped and sold.
 
The possums, which have no natural predators in New Zealand, devastate native forest and eat the eggs of rare birds, including the iconic Kiwi, as well as spreading bovine tuberculosis to livestock.
 
The nocturnal marsupials were introduced in the 19th Century, quickly spreading out of control to the point where officials estimate there are now 70 million of them, outnumbering the human population almost twenty-fold.
 
"They're seen as a pest, people will swerve to hit them on the road," possum hunter Jake McLean said. "They tear up gardens, kill trees and destroy wildlife. They're vicious little animals really, when you get close to them."
 
A small but hardy group of trappers makes a living going into the bush to catch the animals, although most hunt them for weekend sport, earning "beer money" from the fur, which fetches around NZ$100 ($82) a kilogram (2.2 pounds).
 
"The ones that take it seriously can earn NZ$40,000-50,000 a year," said McLean.
 
"They go and live in the bush, it's rough... they go into the ranges, where there are up to 10 possums per hectare.
 

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