Brushtail possums are marsupials from Australia.
In 1837 some of New Zealand’s early european settlers brought Australian possums to New Zealand hoping to start a fur industry. These first possums did not survive, but people kept trying. The first possum population to survive was in Southland in 1858.
In 1921 the Government made it illegal to bring any more possums to New Zealand. But by then, possums were already living in 450 different parts of New Zealand.
In 1946, possums were officially declared a pest in the New Zealand environment. By 1950 possums were found in over half of New Zealand and they kept spreading.
Fiordland and Northland were the last areas of New Zealand to be invaded by possums. In the 1960s there were hardly any possums in Northland but in the 1990s — only 30 years later — there were 10—15 million possums living in Northland.
Possums numbers reached their highest point in the 1980s when there were 50—70 million possums in New Zealand. Once possum populations got very high, trappers began to make a good living from hunting them. Throughout the 1970s prices for possum skins were good. In 1981, the best year for trappers, 3.2 million skins were exported.
Trapping, poisoning and shooting has now reduced the possum population. But there are still about 30 million possums in New Zealand today.
People used to think that possums only ate plants. But in 1993 possums were filmed eating the eggs and chicks of endangered kōkako. They have since been filmed eating the eggs, chicks and even adults of many other native birds including kererū, kiwi, harrier hawk, fantail, muttonbird, and tūī. They also eat the nectar and berries that native birds like to eat so that there is less food for the birds.
Possums carry a disease called bovine Tb (tuberculosis) which they spread to cattle. They also eat pasture so there is less food for farm animals. The damage done by possums costs NZ farmers about $35 million every year. The New Zealand Government spends over $110 million* per year on possum control.
What can you do?
- Use wax tags to find out if you have possums.
- Purchase a humane possum trap.
- Use our trapping best practice to ensure you get the best results.
- Sign up to our newsletter to keep abreast of the latest research on how to trap possums.
* Te Ara – The Encyclopedia of NZ: https://teara.govt.nz/en/possums/page-1