We have been on a war footing here at the love shack on the hill for the past few weeks.
I was sitting at the dining room table some time ago getting ready to start the puzzles in our daily rag and looking forward to about half an hour of quiet time after having the usual pensioner breakfast of Weet-Bix and saveloy soup when the back door burst open and the managing director sallied forth stating "those bloody possums are back, they've eaten the roses and started on the lemons".
Next thing I know I am on the way to the Four Square for a couple of Granny Smiths while the Great White Huntress prepares her battle plans.
We dig the two possum traps out of the garden shed, I remove the last shrivelled up bait from them and re-bait them with a piece of apple and an orange gooey substance that is very attractive to possums but repellent to the neighbourhood moggies. I dot a few bits of goo in a trail along the garden wall and, under the strict supervision of Herself, I place the traps as instructed.
We then retire to the lounge for a preprandial libation as it was by then after 5pm and I am quite exhausted. Time flies when hunting.
Next morning the bride is up at dawn inspecting the traps. Success, one fat grey Sebastian has fallen foul of her plans. My other role in this scenario is as the disposer of the bodies so I am out before breakfast extracting the wee furry okker from his resting place and put the cadaver in the rubbish for pick up in a day or so. I note he is very healthy and has a lovely set of talons. No more rosebuds, birds eggs or baby birds for you pal.
Over the next week or so we snared another three trans-Tasman overstayers and sent them on their way to the tip.
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The battle lines were quiet for a few days over the festive season and, with the arrival of 2-year-old granddaughter and her support staff, the traps were banished back to the shed. Too dangerous for little fingers. The Sebastians had a few days grace, an armistice so to speak before the battle resumed when Her Tiniest left for her home in Wellington.
This is an ongoing war with periods of peace breaking out after bouts of extermination, but it never ends, the price to pay for living in a semi-rural idyll with mainly native trees and the odd exotic surrounding us. It is a labour of love as we feel we are not only protecting our plant life but also the local birdlife, both native and exotic. We have a varied bird population and want to keep it that way.
Back in 1837, some clown thought it would be a great idea to start the possum fur trade in New Zealand. The common brushtail possum, Trichosurus vulpecula, from Australia was the beastie of choice. The first release was unsuccessful but persistence paid off and after about 20 years the possum was well-established in the south of New Zealand.
Importation from Australia was legal until 1921 when the government banned it. By then the Sebastians had settled in both the main islands and were happily munching their way through plant, insect and bird life.
The population reached its highest point in the 1980s when there were between 50 million and 70 million of the little buggers traipsing through our bush. Effective and lucrative trapping has reduced these numbers to around 30 million. They not only wreak havoc on our native plant, insect and bird life but they also carry bovine TB which they happily spread to cattle.
Damage done by possums costs the New Zealand farming industry around $35 million every year with the New Zealand government spending more than $110m each year on extermination programmes.
Prior to 1993 it was thought that possums were mainly vegetarian with the odd side dish of weta but they have since been filmed eating the eggs, chicks and even adults of many native birds including the kōkako, kererū, kiwi, harrier hawk, fantail, muttonbird and tui. They also eat the nectar and berries that native birds rely on for food.
If you have possums they are easy to catch. A trip to your local Hunting & Fishing store or hardware chain store will get you all you need, humane traps for either live or dead results, the lovely gooey paste and away you go.
If you catch possums alive they are not pleasant company. You then need to decide what to do. Either a call to the local ranger to collect the quarry or kill it yourself. Our traps kill humanely and instantly. Much tidier.