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.
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:
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