Arts & Entertainment

THE NAKED CITY – HELLO POSSUMS!

With a prediction that koalas in NSW could be extinct in the wild by 2050, the time has surely come to look at new ways of preserving our native fauna. It’s long been advocated that restrictions on owning and raising domestic wildlife by members of the public be greatly relaxed as one way of increasing animal numbers.

In other words if a native animal, for example a bilby, were suitable to be kept as a domestic pet, then should the green light be given? Yes in theory says Dr Mike Archer, the head of the Australian Museum from 1999-2004, believing it’s worth looking at as a possible means of conservation. No says the Australian National University’s Dr Karen Viggers claiming that,

“The use of native animals as pets will only ever focus on a small subset of species and will be unable to address larger biodiversity conservation issues.”

Unlike countries such as America, and many others throughout the world, the keeping of native species as pets in Australia has always been a no no with a few exceptions like certain kinds of parrots and lizards. At the same time we have a shameful record when it comes to the extinction of numerous native species, in particular the Tassie Tiger and numerous bird, reptiles and other marsupials. It took white settlers only a few hundred years to wipe out what the traditional owners of this land had both co-existed and safeguarded for thousands of years.

We also greatly restrict the export of certain ‘iconic’ animals to other countries. Just as China allows pandas for foreign exhibit under extremely strict conditions, we are equally choosy when it comes to sending koalas abroad. Maybe if we had shipped a few thylacines (aka Tasmanian tigers) off to foreign zoos prior to 1936, when the last known creature died in a Hobart zoo, this remarkable animal would still be extant. Perhaps the best way of conserving koalas would be to ship hundreds of them off to host countries around the world provided they could deliver the right kind of gum leaf diet.

After all we set a successful precedent back in 1837 when we exported the common brushtail possum, trichosurus vulpecula, across the ditch to New Zealand, not so much as a conservation exercise but more in the interest of the Kiwi fur trade. Nevertheless our brushtail buddies have taken to the milder NZ climate with great gusto, so much so that they are now in plague proportions – and sadly regarded as feral pest.

Whilst the law states that you need a permit to keep a possum as a pet in New Zealand, the regulation is largely overlooked as long as you keep your critter in relative captivity. Many Kiwis have found that possums make great pets as long as you can adjust to their nocturnal lifestyle. They are clean, cuddly and affectionate and best of all when they poo they leave a dry, solid, virtually odourless pellet which can be easily swept up and used as garden fertiliser.

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