Northern Advocate Column

How do I get this possum killing done?

20 October 2018

In my garden shed there’s a wire cage, a trap actually. I saw it for sale at the local second-hand market and thought, yep, time I did something about my possum problem. Singular, as far as I can tell, living in the neighbour’s Norfolk Pine. It scampers down at night and helps itself to the fruit trees. Or the tomatoes, like it did last summer. 

The trap sits in the shed unused, however, because of my dilemma: what do I do with the possum once I’ve caught it? Take it on a road trip? Like I remember my father—an animal lover—doing when I was young, and he had a similar backyard invader. Out of sight, out of mind, but hardly in the spirit of culling these destroyers of native bush.

I’m going to have to kill it. I should kill it. They’re pests, they deserve to die… Don’t they? 

But how should I do it? My mother-and-law, very matter-of-fact and practical about most things, says drown it. There’s a pond on the farm over the fence where this killing could be done. Just drop the caged animal into the water. It’s a shallow pond, not a lake, there would be lots of flailing and noisy splashing about. The suffering might be a little too much to witness. 

There is the hammer method. That’s how my rural-living, hunting and fishing cousin used to do it when he was trapping possums to make some pocket money. This was the early eighties when you could get good money for possum fur in New Zealand. As a kid, three years younger, I remember many occasions going into the bush to check gin traps, those terrifying rusty jaws of death (or so they seemed then). The trapped possum was dispatched with a viciously swung hammer blow to the head. I was in awe. My cousin always pressured me to have a go, but I never did. 

Could I do it now? Seems like plenty of room for error, I don’t want to be clumsily dealing multiple blows like some deranged Mr Bean. 

I have killed before. Many fish. A couple of sick chickens. And some ducks. We got the ducks for their eggs and to eat. Appleyards they were, good for both. After searching the internet for the most humane killing method, it was apparent guillotining the duck’s head with a cleaver was actually the best option, if you could stomach the blood. 

Cleaver duly purchased. Kids banished from the backyard, two big nails hammered into a piece of wood, neck quickly placed between nails and cleaver swung with a heavy heart. Truly, each time, I was sad for the rest of the day. We haven’t purchased any more ducks. 

I still have the cleaver. Could I chop the head off a struggling possum? I’ve visions of a horror scene… a half-decapitated possum clawing at my arm, blood everywhere, and me falling over the wheelbarrow screaming. Maybe not. 

There’s poisoning. Can you even buy 1080? It’s one thing to support 1080 drops done by faceless other people to faceless furry marsupials in a forest far away, but feeding poison to single animal through the bars of a cage? 

I shouldn’t be so squeamish. I’d be doing a good thing. No different to what DOC’s doing. They’re the good guys, right?

I read recently that the kererū, New Zealand’s bird of the year, has a lower population in Northland, in part because of possums. I like kererū. 

One way or another, this killing’s got to be done. Why do I keep hearing the lyrics to that Bob Dylan song in my head? (Abe said, “Where d’you want this killin’ done?” God said, “Out on Highway 61.”) Killing a possum isn’t the equivalent of a biblical infanticide. End this melodrama. 

I need to borrow a gun. I’ve never fired one before, they scare the hell out of me. But I’ve got to summon the moral gumption and just do it. Killing this damn possum will be good for the environment. 

I’ll do it for the kererū! 

For my tomatoes!