19 Oct 2023

Dedicated possum lovers keeping the marsupial as pets

From Morning Report, 8:53 am on 19 October 2023
Fanta the pet possum

Photo: Gaby Bailey

The brushtail possum is loathed as a pest by most Kiwis, but loved as a pet by others.   

A small number of dedicated possum lovers have invited the marsupials into their homes and their hearts.   

Gaby Bailey said her possum, Fanta, was a surprise arrival.  

"Someone ended up picking him up for their dog and realised he was still alive, so handed him over to me and he's been my best buddy ever since. 

"We've dealt with a lot of anxiety issues when he was younger, now he is a happy, healthy, funny dude. He just had his 5th birthday."  

She's a member of a Facebook group dedicated to caring for possums and said they are usually found as babies.  

"A lot of people find them already on their dead mothers on the side of the road, or that have been shot by hunters. 

"Most people will get a possum that way and raise it."  

Fanta is set up with a custom-built enclosure at Bailey's specialist exotic animal rescue centre in north Auckland.  

Gaby Bailey holding her pet possum Fanta

Photo: Gaby Bailey

Further south, Hannah has a menagerie that includes cats, a possum, a ferret, and even a magpie.  

She said it's a unique - and painful - experience to have a possum climb up your leg.  

"I think the possum's claws are just much worse than a cat's claws."  

Her ferret appeared in her chicken coop one day as a kit, while her possum was dropped off by a hunter who shot its mother.  

Both have firmly staked their place in the family.   

Hannah said they shouldn't be living in the wild.  

"I agree that they shouldn't be here in the wild in New Zealand, my personal take on it is if I have taken one of these pests from the wild and put it in a cage, it's no longer in the wild. It's no longer a threat to native birds and plants and things like that."  

She found a vet to desex her possum and ferret, and Bailey also had Fanta desexed.   

Bailey said some people who meet Fanta worry he could pass tuberculosis on to her, but others are quickly won over.  

"They go 'oh my granddad had a possum' or 'I used to have a possum as a kid' and they love it and have kept them before."  

Possums can carry bovine tuberculosis and in rare cases pass it on to humans. Bailey said she has managed to avoid it so far.  

The Department of Conservation takes a dim view of pests as pets.  

In a statement, it said that to keep a possum without appropriate permits is illegal, and the animals represent a significant risk to New Zealand's biodiversity.  

It's a sentiment echoed by Auckland Council Biosecurity advisor Dr Imogen Bassett, who says as well as eating native animals possums affect the plant life too.  

"Possums are estimated to consume around 21,000 tonnes of leaves and flowers every night, so it's having a really big impact on our forest ecosystems. 

"We don't want people to be having these kinds of animals as pets because there's that risk of them being released back out into the environment."  

While it may be unpalatable, her advice is if people find a baby pest they should act quickly.   

"These animals deserve our respect and care just like other animals do, but really we don't want to be keeping them alive because that's really counter to the enormous amount of work that lots of volunteers and others are doing around the country all the time trying to get rid of them.  

"Really, what we encourage people to do is to humanely euthanise that animal."  

Bassett said vets can euthanise the pests if people are unable to do it themselves.