“I want to stand as close to the edge as I can without going over. Out on the edge you see all the kinds of things you can't see from the center.” Kurt Vonnegut Jr.

Wednesday, June 20, 2007

Possum Hunt

Oh, my dear reader, you are in for a REAL treat! Just an hour drive from Auckland, in a rural farming/ranching community of New Zealand, I found a truely unique experience! But first, be warned:

The following photographs show dead possums. There are a lot of possum.

The possum in New Zealand is a pest. They were introduced from Australia for a fur industry- their fur is really soft and warm, and it is woven with wool into luxurious yarns for sweaters, hats, scarves, etc. Unfortunately, becausethey have no predators, they have overrun the forests, eating and killing trees, especially the native trees. It is the duty of every New Zealand citizen, I'm told, to kill a possum if you see one. Hence, the Possum Hunt. This one was a fundraiser for a rural school. I found out about it through my NZnaturaldog yahoo group. Apparently, possum has an excellent nutritional profile for dog and cat food. Poison is a common method to knock down their population, and various types are widely used. Basically this means you must keep dogs out of areas treated with possum poisons. The poison will remain in the carcass and is toxic to dogs even after death. The possum hunt I attended was in an area untreated with poisons. I drove down to this event to collect some carcasses and see if my pets would eat possum.

The school raised funds by selling entries into the hunting competition, and offering prizes for the most killed. I met a member of my yahoo email group there, and she feeds the whole carass to her dogs. We donated some money to the school in hopes that we'll get alerted to the next hunt and hopefully support the non-poisoning landowners. The remaining carcasses were getting tossed into an offal pit. I took more than I could count, I think about 25, but I don't really want to know. This is because I needed to butcher them before
freezing, otherwise they would not fit in our freezer.

The butchering process was a learning experience. I learned that the skin only comes off easily if they are freshly killed (we got day old carcasses, but weather was cold). The possums have really sharp claws. I was told dogs can digest these, but I didn't want to take chances. Initially, I dissected them- removing head, tail, paws, and guts, saving the carcass with heart and liver. Their stomachs and guts were full of food. They smelled bad. They were not going to fit in the freezer whole, and I had a pile of dead possum to process, so I started saving only the arms and legs, and discarding the rest. To get through all of them took me 4 hours. I did it on the front porch, and a cold wind was blowing. I had to sharpen the butcher knife after each one was done. It was dark when I finished. Fortunately, the cats and dogs like to eat it. I can see from watching them that eating the possum is a bit of work. This makes the meal take longer, so I enjoy that Jazz is not immediately crying for more food after I feed him. The first time they tried it, the pets were unsure about the fur. Now they eat it all.
Regarding the fur, for some reason I don't quite understand, the possum carcasses had to be shaved along the back . The fur was collected (see photo).

A group of boys searched the possum pouches for joeys, which are baby possums. They found several still alive, and collected them in a sack. The eldest boy was very outgoing and friendly and helpful, picking out possums for me and putting them in my box. Everyone there was very nice, very genuine. Check out the picture of the boy standing next to the dead possums with bare feet. I think this is a great example of how laid back the Kiwis are.
The time and hard work it took to butcher all those dead possum was worth the experience, but I won't take so many next time. I feel good that the possums didn't go to waste (well, entirely). I was so glad to see the trash bags I'd set out on Sunday evening were still intact Monday morning. I'd had visions of a dog or cat getting into the bags of carcasses and spreading them across the road. Thank you very much to the trash men who picked it up next morning!
Update: The possum were shaved and the fur collected for sale. The proceeds of this sale went to the school. The price for possum fur is around $120 per kilo.