One of my first fun surprises on moving to New Zealand was finding all of the possum fur products in the tourist shops with great big stickers promoting the environmental benefits of buying possum fur. You can even get possum fur belly-button warmers.The possums, marsupials unrelated to the American opossum, have no natural enemies in New Zealand. Even the trees are at their mercy as they munch them to death, while in their native Australia many trees have spines, prickles, and poisonous leaves that keep the possums on the ground. Serendipitously, several businesses are profiting from possum products and at the same time reducing the possum population.The pelts have always been used in a range of garments for cooler climates, but more recently the fur has been combined with merino wool and silk to make an ultra-soft, lightweight material that has attracted the attention of top fashion outlets. Untouched World, a New Zealand company and the first fashion business to be recognized by the United Nations for sustainability, is selling sweaters, hats, gloves, and socks at their stores and online.The supple skin of the possum also has been discovered by sports enthusiasts for both golf and rugby. Fila, one of the world’s largest sportswear manufacturing companies, is selling gloves made from possum skin and rave reviews have come from Singapore, Korea, and the United States, among others. As the demand goes up, the number of possums goes down; trappers are back in the forests because providing possum pelts can also provide a good living.Exterminating possums is usually done with traps or poison. Although considered pests and a danger to the environment, many people, including potential customers, are uncomfortable with these methods. To solve that problem, the company Goodnature, founded by three industrial design graduates, has developed a humane and non-toxic method of killing possums. Their device delivers a fatal blow to the head by a CO² powered piston.
The fur trade is unlikely to knock possums back to the very low populations DoC would like; use of 1080 poison in possum control remains fairly controversial. But it is nice to see folks doing well by doing good - in this case, killing possums.