Saturday, 23 February 2019

The residential possum trapper Part 1

We all know that possums are a nasty predator that needs to be eliminated in New Zealand. It's an introduced pest from Australia and has only major negative effects here on our native flora and fauna . Most of us know that there's a pest programme called PredatorfreeNZ . It's dependent on volunteers.

It didn't feature much on my radar due to my personal circumstances but I felt it was a good idea to get rid of these pests because I love NZ wildlife and hate what introduced species and colonial stupidity have done to what was a natural paradise.

My perceptions and motivations changed dramatically after I moved into my brand new home and started planting my gardens and orchard in Rolleston. I chose my section based on research and the developer's marketing. Check out their video . It's even more developed since this was filmed. This suburb is developed in official partnership with Selwyn District Council. Looks very urban doesn't it? Good amenities, tidy, modern in one of NZ's fastest growing towns managed by one of NZ's richest district councils. Rates here are over $3000.

Four nights after I had moved into my house my embryonic orchard had been wiped out. No leaves left, branches broken off, bark stripped. Possum attack!  Desperate I contacted Christchurch City Council and Selwyn District Council. Both brushed it off saying it was not their problem since the problem was mine, me being a private homeowner. I was told to hire a private pest controller.

I'm unemployed. Paying someone to get rid of the problem located elsewhere which was creating property damage was not possible. My garden is my hobby and also the only way I have to control some of my food costs and eat more nutritious food than you'll find at any supermarket. When I bought my section I bought a flashy, urban, fibre optic reality that did not include this shit. I rang Environment Canterbury who also said it was not their problem (despite the fact they are responsible for pest eradication). If seems their priorities are on Bank Peninsula or rabbits bothering lifestyle blockers or getting rid of wallabies in South Canterbury.
The Department of Conservation who, as we know, detest pests and tries to get rid of them refused to help as the problem was not on DOC land. Whose land was it that was the source of the problem?

It's owned by the developer and another land owner and despite complaints by residents in my street to the developer, long before I moved in, their complaints went ignored.

ECan gave me the number of a pest controller and so I called Dave but told him I had no money to pay for PredatorfreeNZ work. He very kindly said he'd pop round and check out my place. He was shocked by the devastation and offered to help for free. We set up a Timms trap at the corner of my section, erected a ramp from the top of the fence to the trap, added a bait trail and chose the licorce-flavoured bait. It was scary stuff. I live alone and I was entering 'new territory'.

I went to bed every night knowing there would be something scary to deal with later. Would it be a cadaver facing me the next morning or, worse, no cadaver at all? And all the while the damage continued. They started on my roses, then my camelias, then my lilacs. For the first two nights there was only damage. Then I heard the trap go off and knew I'd have to get rid of a body and re-arm the trap myself. I looked out my bedroom curtains. Was that a dark lump next to the trap? I had to wait for light to be sure. When I regarded the corpse something clicked in me. I stopped being a blindly loving animal lover. All I felt was anger, disgust and temporary relief that this one would no longer be destroying my home. It was me or them but the effects on my sleeping and mental health were very negative and I did not buy into this when I bought a section in Faringdon.

On one occasion a beast put up a fight inside the trap and I had to go out in my pyjamas and gumboots at 3.30am to make sure it died, one way or the other, because to lose one is really awful, knowing you have to go through it all over again just to get the same possum.

Possums get trap shy and bait shy. It is complicated to get rid of them when you are not allowed to put poison down, not allowed to shoot them. People with children would be loathe to even put traps down. I had to persist.

We put a trap right outside my bedroom window because we noticed possum paw prints all up and down one of my pergola posts.

One night I heard a bizarre noise outside my bedroom window. Half asleep I could not identify it- I imagined I was in Alaska, snowed into a cabin, alone, with a grizzly bear prowling outside, trying to get in to get me. Those of you who have heard possums calling each other will understand exactly how scary it could me on your own in a house at night with that going on above you. I forced myself out of bed to look outside.

God, there was a horrid beast on top of my pergola. I willed it to come down. It wandered to and fro on top of the pergola. Then it decided to slowly make it's way down head first, rubbing it's scent over the post. The trap seemed mildly interesting to it. For ages, it seemed, it put its front paws on top and just looked at it. Put your head in! Put your head in! I telepathed. Suddenly it did. whammo! It died pretty quickly from its airway and the major blood vessel to the brain being squished. Phew. Shaking, I went back to bed thinking that now I could relax and get some sleep.

About an hour later, still keyed up and not quite asleep I heard the trap being dragged across my bedroom patio. Well, what would YOU think? Resurrection? Defective trap? What did I need to deal with now? Peering through my curtains I saw another possum lurking around the dead one. Shit! I didn't know what to do. It moved across to eat my alyssums. I wished I had a loaded rifle beside the French doors. When I turned on the outside lights it just balefully stared at me. Just two feet away. It was not afraid. I opened the window and screamed at it. It strolled across my backyard and disappeared. I needed more traps. My professional trapping advisor told me he had video proof that possums are into necrophilia. Perhaps I had interrupted a session outside my bedroom. This is not nice, one pane of glass between me and THAT!

We set up three Timms traps but success was limited. We changed the bait on the ramp to peanut butter flavoured.

We then set up a big electric trap. Possum pelts are very dense and thick. The electrodes have to scratch the back skin of a possum in order to make contact and the possum has to put its front and back paws on the plates. Both the bait and the trap were a failure. Some Cinnamon bait was licked up but they found ways not to put both sets of paws on the plates. Electric traps are capable of multiple kills. Once one possum is electrocuted the machine must wait at least two minutes before dropping the body on the ground ready for the next. If it drops immediately the drop acts like a defibrillator and resuscitates the beast which can recover.

The possums were escaping from the Timms traps leaving fur behind. We can't explain this. Maybe they were putting just an arm in. I was running out of options. One night I saw a huge possum with a Timms trap on its head waving it back and forward, too big and powerful to die immediately. On another night I heard the trap go off, saw the possum sitting in the middle of my backyard just staring at me with its horrid eyes. It then waltzed up the ramp and disappeared. Two weeks later we found it dead behind my fence. A huge size. Flat and cooked by 30+ degree temperatures.

Then the possums started eating my house. They have bitten two chucks out of the front beam of my bedroom pergola. There is a vicious claw mark on a rafter. Why? They were marking their territory. I did not feel safe in my new home. I was told not to have any windows open in the middle of this hot summer, even the ones with window stays, because a possum in my house would create huge damage. The possums controlled my life and this is not fair.

No amount of online info or free trap libraries can solve situations like this. Would you have the intestinal fortitude, the emotional strength to deal with this month after month? I didn't feel I did and for the past month all emails and voice messages to the developer (the founder and his marketing manager) went unanswered. Christmas, New Year, lengthy overseas holidays.

What about the other people down your street? I door knocked to ascertain attitudes and the extent of the problem.
Responses ranged across the following:

  • Back garden wiped out, decided not to replant due to possum problem so just lawn and a dog to protect against possums
  • Front garden seriously damaged, preferring to sell up and leave the area (though not just because of possums). Fed up with the subdivision and the developer
  • Mothers worried about the health of their children as there is so much possum excrement on the fences etc. Possums carry diseases such as TB
  • Mounting anger towards the subdivision developer Hughes Developments and SDC for not eradicating these monsters before selling us the sections - they say the developer did not respond to their complaints and does not treat everyone equally when enforcing the covenants.
  • Sorry about your garden Frances but we will not support you if you do anything publicly about this as we don't want you wrecking our property values. 

In Part two I will outline the developer's response, my kill toll, what I'm doing to try to save what's left of the stumps of my fruit trees, the community and political aspects and more on baits and traps and what to do with cadavers.