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The possum is a nocturnal marsupial with large ears, pointed face, close woolly fur and bushy tail. The large eyes and catlike whiskers are typical of nocturnal animals. The body length is 40-52cm. Adults weigh 1.5-5kg. There is little difference in size or weight between the sexes. Colour varies from grey and brown, red brown to almost black.
Cover for den sites and a suitable variable food supply are the possum's only requirements, hence they are found in a very diverse range of habitats. These range from indigenous forests, exotic forests, shelter belts, orchards and cropping areas, pasture land, swamp land, sand dunes and urban areas.
Indigenous forests are their major habitat, especially mixed hardwood forests where possum densities become higher than in exotic forests. Pasture margins also often support very dense populations.
Juvenile possums, both male and female, have considerable potential to disperse from their natal areas. Movements of up to 10km and occasionally 30km have been recorded with one juvenile recorded moving 5km in two nights.
Introduced to New Zealand from Australia in 1858 to establish a fur trade, subsequent legal liberations were made by regional Acclimatisation Societies between 1890-1900 from mainland Australia and Tasmania. Further illegal liberations were made by private individuals to assist Dispersal from 1920-1940.
The possum browses vegetation, stripping entire trees of leaves and causing serious damage to indigenous forests. The possum also damages the entire indigenous forest ecosystem by eating fruits, berries, insects, birds eggs and chicks thus affecting wildlife directly and indirectly by reducing food supplies.
Possums in bush/pasture margins will eat grass/clover, five possums will eat as much as one ewe. The possum is a vector in the spread of bovine tuberculosis.
Possums in exotic forestry plantations cause economic damage to various tree species. Damage to newly planted seedlings can be severe as can bark stripping, lateral and top leader damage to trees up to fifteen years of age.
Possum damage to plants especially on steep erodible land can increase the risk of soil erosion, flooding, property damage and deterioration of water quality.
Possums also pose a risk to human health by carrying and spreading leptospirosis, giardia and liver fluke.
On residential properties possums steal or spoil produce and damage ornamental plants. Occasionally they enter homes, often by chimneys, fouling and damaging furniture or fittings when they are unable to escape.
The possum is considered the most serious pest in New Zealand.
Controlling/eliminating possums will benefit the peninsula through protecting indigenous vegetation and wildlife, particularly that of significant ecological, scenic or economic value and the productive capacity of land.
There are several methods of controlling possums. Some are better suited to particular situations. Some require the user to be trained and licensed. The Auckland Regional Council has produced several fact sheets on possum control to help land occupiers control possums, these are available from the APL Pest Control co-ordinator and cover the following: