So far I’ve found that if I mention ‘possum to a Kiwi bloke, I’ll get an extraordinary story—and an extraordinary reaction.
The man’s teeth will clench, his eyes get a wild look, his face goes red and the knuckles go white—all over a cute little animal that veteran ‘possum hunter, Grant Fitz-William said was “kind of stupid, really.”
Possums are a pest that New Zealanders are trying to eradicate—or at least significantly reduce in numbers.
Originally brought over to New Zealand from Australia in the mid-1800s for fur farming but turned loose into the wilds after the fickle fashion industry no longer wanted possum pelts. There, they’ve decimated kiwi birds by eating their eggs and chewed their way through native forest, destroying valuable trees before man can get around to cutting them down. They also are considered carriers of tuberculosis, a threat to man and livestock.
So most male Kiwis, at some time in their life, have taken up arms, traps, and in general, gone forth into the bush to do battle with the ‘possum.
Among the stories that Fitz-William, who once worked for the New Zealand Department of Conservation, told me is one of a colleague who went out one day with several hounds to hunt rabbits.
The guy tossed a firecracker down a rabbit hole, only to have a panicked possum rush out, and on seeing the dogs, the possum took the guy for the nearest, readily available tree and ran all the way up and dug its long, sharp claws into his scalp. The guy then took off screaming and clawing, trying to get the screeching possum off his head but with the dogs barking and lunging to get to him atop his moving “tree,” the possum only dug its claws in deeper—causing the guy to go even more berserk.
Finally the guy tripped and fell over which was all the possum needed since the guy no longer was a secure “tree” to cling to so he ran off to the next available tree.
For an animal that is “kind of stupid, really” it sure generates more than its fair share of stories—enough to make one wonder more about the hunter than the hunted.