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Pest Control at Waimangu

The Possum, while high in cuteness, is a major pest in the New Zealand environment.

A species introduced from Australia between 1837 and 1920, it was with a view to establishing a fur industry in New Zealand. Today in Australia, the same Bushtail Possum enjoys protection status.

For the possum, New Zealand conditions are so favourable, its population has flourished. With estimated numbers in excess of 70 million, possums chew through 7 million tonnes of vegetation per year.

In its native environment, the possum would be naturally controlled by dingoes and forest fires but in New Zealand possums have no predators. They compete very successfully with native birds for habitat, and for food – including insects, berries and leaves. They also disturb nesting birds, eating their chicks and eggs.

The possum feeds on the best, new growth on trees, ignoring old leaves. After 2 years of heavy possum browsing a tree will usually die.

Methods of Control
Every year more than $58 million is spent on possum control, with the following methods used:
  • Possums are nocturnal, with shooting at night with the aid of a spotlight commonly carried out on farm country.
  • Poisons such as cyanide and 1080 are widely used for possum control, mainly in areas that are large and inaccessible.
  • In recent years it has become common practice to place poison for possum in bait stations. This protects the bait from the weather and reduces the risk of poisoning other wildlife.
  • A variety of traps are used by commercial hunters for gathering skins or fur. These are also used in possum control operations where the use of poison is not appropriate.
  • Kill traps (eg Timms Traps) baited with apple for trapping possums in residential areas.
  • Individual tree trunks can be wrapped with sheet metal (as seen on power poles).
  • In the home environment trees can be protected with either commercially available or homemade repellents. For example, 10 parts of melted fat to one part kerosene. Allow to set then spread on the base of the tree.

Job Creation from Possums
The Social Welfare, Justice and Labour Departments have strategies to create jobs in possum control for the unemployed. Ironically, the possum fur industry (the original reason for possums being imported almost 150 years ago) is thriving again after having declined from its peak in the 1980’s.

Most possum skin dealers take as many pelts as they can get, with pelt prices rising. A new fibre produced by blending possum fur and NZ wool is an exciting development which is showing great potential in the clothing industry. Tourism potential is being developed on the East Coast with spot lighting hunts.

Possum meat is being exported to Asia as a low-cholesterol, healthy food. Export meat comes from special farms in Northland, which are under strict Department of Agriculture and Forestry control.

Waimangu Valley Possum Control Programme
Waimangu Volcanic Valley Ltd voluntarily introduced a possum control scheme in 2000 on the land which is leased from the Department of Conservation and is a part of the Waimangu Scenic Reserve.

Although not required under the terms of the lease, this is seen by the Company to be an important contribution to the environment at Waimangu.

As a Scenic Reserve with international significance, Waimangu’s botany is well worth preserving and protecting. The Waimangu possum initiative involves a controlled, monitored and recorded programme including shooting, trapping and bait stations. Trapping takes place in August, September and October each year. This timing takes into account the fact that possums are hungry after the winter and more likely to be active, especially with the early spring growth beginning, and also that bird eggs and fledglings need protection at this period. The Waimangu Possum Control Programme is funded by contributions from visitor entry fees and by voluntary donations.

Visitor Options & Prices
Take a self-guided walk or hike around this amazing volcanic valley, join our popular lake boat cruise, or book one of three guided tours.
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