Possums (Trichosurus vulpecula) were introduced to New Zealand from Australia in 1837 to establish a fur trade. They successfully adapted to a wide range of New Zealand habitats where they found plentiful food and few predators. They are now considered a major environmental pest. All land owners in the Waikato region are encouraged to destroy possums on their land.
On this page: Possum biology, Why possums are pests, What possums look like, Possum sign, Who is responsible for control?, Control methods, Useful contacts, Other publications
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Possums are widespread in the Waikato region, with higher concentrations in ‘unmanaged’ areas where there is more food. Possums feed on both plants and animals. They reach maturity at between one and two years old and have an average life span of four years. They nest in dens in trees, hollow logs, under tangled masses of vegetation, in hay sheds and even in the roofs of buildings.
Why possums are pests
Possums are a major ecological and agricultural pest in New Zealand. They:
- 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 adults)
- feed on native invertebrates, such as insects
- compete with native birds for habitat and food
- carry and spread bovine tuberculosis (Tb) in cattle and deer, which poses a serious threat to New Zealand’s agricultural industry.
What possums look like
Adult possums are about the size of a cat and have a small head and oval ears. They are usually active at night (nocturnal). Their large eyes and catlike whiskers are typical of nocturnal mammals. Possums’ thick woolly fur is usually brown, grey or a combination of these colours, and they have long bushy black tails. Like other marsupials, the females carry their young in a pouch.
Browsing possums often leave behind distinctive signs, such as discarded and partially eaten leaves, flowers and fruit. They usually feed on foliage by holding branches in their paws and using their teeth to tear the leaves. They often leave behind the leaf stalk, base and midrib and tattered leaf remains. Heavy and persistent possum browsing will kill a tree.
Other possum signs to watch for include:
- ‘Runs’ (tracks) used nightly by possums travelling to and from feeding areas (most obvious in pasture).
- Claw marks on trees, fence posts and gates.
- Bark bites (small horizontal marks) on trees.
- Possum droppings scattered under food trees and in the forks of trees. The droppings look rather like black jellybeans (around 2.5cm long and slightly thicker than a pencil).
Who is responsible for control?
All landowners/occupiers outside of Priority Possum Control Areas (PPCAs) are responsible for controlling possums on their property. Waikato Regional Council helps landowners involved in specific conservation and restoration schemes with possum control and can provide specific advice and information on small and large-scale possum control initiatives that may be suitable for your area. Waikato Regional Council manages possums in a number of ways, including setting PPCAs.
The Animal Health Board controls possums in areas where bovine Tb is a risk. Extensive possum control is also carried out by the Department of Conservation to reduce the effects of possums on protected public land. Waikato Regional Council works in co-operation with these organisations.
Waikato Regional Council has produced a Recreational and Commercial Possum Hunting Map as a resource for possum hunters. Waikato Regional Council recognizes that both recreational hunting and commercial fur harvesting of possums can make an important contribution to the pest control picture in the Waikato region.
There are many ways to protect your property from possums. Reducing suitable den sites (piles of logs, dead trees and entry points into sheds and other buildings) may make your property less attractive to possums. Use of repellents or barriers can protect small crops, gardens or individual trees.
Trapping can be effective against low density or poison shy possums. But the humaneness of some traps is under consideration, and live capture traps must be checked daily.
There is a variety of poisons available for possum control. Different poisons vary in their environmental persistence, price, and humaneness. Shooting near seasonally available food sources may reduce local populations, but is usually a relatively ineffective option unless used together with other control methods.
Contact your local Biosecurity Animal Pest Contractor or farm supply store for additional advice and information on effective methods of control.
Call Waikato Regional Council’s Freephone 0800 800 401 for policy and procedural enquiries.
Regional Pest Management Strategy
Waikato Regional Council pest factsheet series
'What makes a pest a pest? - A guide to Waikato's pest management future' download, order or pick for free from our offices.
Insight PPCA Newsletter (3 monthly possum control update)