Let’s put this into perspective. New Zealand has a total population of 4.5 million people, 45 million sheep, and between 80 and 90 million possum. The possum is not indigenous to New Zealand. It was originally imported from Australia by the British when they discovered there were no fur-bearing animals in the country. They probably rubbed their hands together in glee, dreaming of all the money they would make from selling the pelts of the furry little varmints. Well, the possum fur business was never successful but the possum population thrived. Possum are now so prevalent that they are a danger to the forests in New Zealand, as it is estimated that they strip and eat upwards of two million tons of foliage a day. Everywhere I went I heard and read about possum. Every bus driver expounded on possum. One driver insisted there was a point system for running over the critters – ten points for an easy hit, 20 points if he has to swerve, and 30 points if he has to back up to finish the job. The government pays trappers for every pelt. Everywhere there are signs posted, telling people to kill possum in order to save New Zealand’s forests. This gives Aussies a start when they visit, as the possum is a protected species in their country.
Yesterday’s bus trip between Franz Josef and Greymouth brought home how serious these folks are about eradicating the possum population. We made a rest stop at the Bushman’s Cafe and Bar, way out in the middle of nowhere on the northern reaches of the west coast, where they are best known for their Wildfoods Festival each March. We stepped down from the bus, where the owner of the cafe was skinning a couple of possum he had trapped. He said in his younger days he could skin one in about 45 seconds flat – lovely. I wandered around the rustic cafe, reading the various hand-lettered signs:
“If you’re smoking, you’d better be on fire”
“Breakfast until 10 AM, lunch until 3 PM. If you’re here for dinner you’ll be charged with breaking and entering.”
Outside again I discovered what they DO with the possum they trap, aside from selling the fur. In front of the cafe was this advertisement for possum pie and across the street at the Puke Pub (accent over the “e” in Puke, for the French version of the word, about which I shall remain mute), they were hawking possum delights. Ahh, I should have guessed – this is, after all, the home of the world famous Wildfoods Festival. Let’s hope the possum don’t evolve any time soon – if they do, the Kiwis are seriously outnumbered…….