These Possums Are So Cute. They Must Be Killed.

Your Guide to the World's Hidden Wonders
March 26 2014 9:37 AM

Opossum World, Where Cute But Threatening Critters are Hated to Death

Atlas Obscura on Slate is a blog about the world's hidden wonders. Like us on Facebook, Tumblr, or follow us on Twitter @atlasobscura.

The seaside city of Napier, on New Zealand's North Island, is the home of Art Deco architecture, some wonderful wineries, and Opossum World, an educational display about the common brushtail possum.

From a distance, the cuddly-looking animal on the Opossum World sign hints at a menagerie of adorable creatures therein. Get closer, however, and you'll see the words "Unique fur blend products." Opossum World is not a sanctuary. It is not a zoo. The proprieters hate possums, want them dead, and sell a wide range of products made from their skins.

Advertisement

The possum-loathing people of Napier are not alone in their ire. The common brushtail possum, native to Australia, was introduced to New Zealand in 1837 with the aim of creating a fur industry. In Australia, dingoes, bushfires, and limited edible vegetation keep the possum population under control. New Zealand, however, has far fewer dingoes, is less prone to bushfires, and is resplendent with delicious fruits, ferns, and fungi. It's paradise for possums.

Unbothered by predators and free to gorge themselves, the brushtail possums proliferated. There are now up to 60 million of them in New Zealand. The country's human population is 4.5 million.

Cute though they may be, possums pose a significant threat to New Zealand's forests and eco-systems. In addition to chowing down on native trees, the critters disturb the nests of native birds, eat their eggs and chicks, and are carriers of bovine tuberculosis. For the good of the country, the solution is simple: the possums need to die.

The Department of Conservation drops the poison sodium fluoroacetate (also known as 1080) from helicopters to kill the brushtails. On an individual level, farmers gladly shoot or poison possums with no remorse. Kids even get in on the action: in 2010 a school in Manawatu came under fire from the Royal New Zealand Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals after it held a dead possum-throwing contest during a fundraiser.

Opossum World promotes the possums-are-evil message with dioramas depicting taxidermied possums in deranged poses. Alongside the educational displays is a gift shop where you can purchase luxury rugs, slippers, scarves, and pill box hats, all made from possum fur.

Furred and feathered friends:


View Opossum World in a larger map

TODAY IN SLATE

Politics

Talking White

Black people’s disdain for “proper English” and academic achievement is a myth.

Hong Kong’s Protesters Are Ridiculously Polite. That’s What Scares Beijing So Much.

The One Fact About Ebola That Should Calm You: It Spreads Slowly

Operation Backbone

How White Boy Rick, a legendary Detroit cocaine dealer, helped the FBI uncover brazen police corruption.

A Jaw-Dropping Political Ad Aimed at Young Women, Apparently

The XX Factor
Oct. 1 2014 4:05 PM Today in GOP Outreach to Women: You Broads Like Wedding Dresses, Right?
Music

How Even an Old Hipster Can Age Gracefully

On their new albums, Leonard Cohen, Robert Plant, and Loudon Wainwright III show three ways.

How Tattoo Parlors Became the Barber Shops of Hipster Neighborhoods

This Gargantuan Wind Farm in Wyoming Would Be the Hoover Dam of the 21st Century

Moneybox
Oct. 1 2014 8:34 AM This Gargantuan Wind Farm in Wyoming Would Be the Hoover Dam of the 21st Century To undertake a massively ambitious energy project, you don’t need the government anymore.
  News & Politics
Politics
Oct. 1 2014 7:26 PM Talking White Black people’s disdain for “proper English” and academic achievement is a myth.
  Business
Buy a Small Business
Oct. 1 2014 11:48 PM Inking the Deal Why tattoo parlors are a great small-business bet.
  Life
Outward
Oct. 1 2014 6:02 PM Facebook Relaxes Its “Real Name” Policy; Drag Queens Celebrate
  Double X
The XX Factor
Oct. 1 2014 5:11 PM Celebrity Feminist Identification Has Reached Peak Meaninglessness
  Slate Plus
Behind the Scenes
Oct. 1 2014 3:24 PM Revelry (and Business) at Mohonk Photos and highlights from Slate’s annual retreat.
  Arts
Brow Beat
Oct. 1 2014 9:39 PM Tom Cruise Dies Over and Over Again in This Edge of Tomorrow Supercut
  Technology
Future Tense
Oct. 1 2014 6:59 PM EU’s Next Digital Commissioner Thinks Keeping Nude Celeb Photos in the Cloud Is “Stupid”
  Health & Science
Science
Oct. 1 2014 4:03 PM Does the Earth Really Have a “Hum”? Yes, but probably not the one you’re thinking.
  Sports
Sports Nut
Oct. 1 2014 5:19 PM Bunt-a-Palooza! How bad was the Kansas City Royals’ bunt-all-the-time strategy in the American League wild-card game?