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.


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

Ella Morton is a writer working on The Atlas Obscura, a book about global wonders, curiosities, and esoterica adapted from Atlas Obscura. Follow her on Twitter.



Don’t Worry, Obama Isn’t Sending U.S. Troops to Fight ISIS

But the next president might. 

The Extraordinary Amicus Brief That Attempts to Explain the Wu-Tang Clan to the Supreme Court Justices

Amazon Is Officially a Gadget Company. Here Are Its Six New Devices.

The Human Need to Find Connections in Everything

It’s the source of creativity and delusions. It can harm us more than it helps us.

How Much Should You Loathe NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell?

Here are the facts.

Altered State

The Plight of the Pre-Legalization Marijuana Offender

What should happen to weed users and dealers busted before the stuff was legal?

Surprise! The Women Hired to Fix the NFL Think the NFL Is Just Great.

You Shouldn’t Spank Anyone but Your Consensual Sex Partner

Sept. 17 2014 5:10 PM The Most Awkward Scenario in Which a Man Can Hold a Door for a Woman
  News & Politics
Altered State
Sept. 17 2014 11:51 PM The Plight of the Pre-Legalization Marijuana Offender What should happen to weed users and dealers busted before the stuff was legal?
Business Insider
Sept. 17 2014 1:36 PM Nate Silver Versus Princeton Professor: Who Has the Right Models?
Sept. 17 2014 6:53 PM LGBTQ Luminaries Honored With MacArthur “Genius” Fellowships
  Double X
The XX Factor
Sept. 17 2014 6:14 PM Today in Gender Gaps: Biking
  Slate Plus
Slate Fare
Sept. 17 2014 9:37 AM Is Slate Too Liberal?  A members-only open thread.
Brow Beat
Sept. 17 2014 8:25 PM A New Song and Music Video From Angel Olsen, Indie’s Next Big Thing
Future Tense
Sept. 17 2014 9:00 PM Amazon Is Now a Gadget Company
  Health & Science
Medical Examiner
Sept. 17 2014 11:48 PM Spanking Is Great for Sex Which is why it’s grotesque for parenting.
Sports Nut
Sept. 17 2014 3:51 PM NFL Jerk Watch: Roger Goodell How much should you loathe the pro football commissioner?