With country living comes country responsibility, and that’s not always pleasant, as Wendyl Nissen discovers.
reining in the rodents
Iwas in our toolshed recently when I heard a rustle in the top right corner. I looked up to see, through a hole in the ceiling, a very large, sleepy possum glaring at me rather angrily for waking him up in the middle of what must have been a nice warm sleep. I froze, then backed out very slowly before slamming the door shut and running back to the house.
I have a fear of possums due to an incident one night at my caravan in the Bay of Plenty. Years ago I used to escape to this caravan for a bit of “me” time, taking our late huntaway cross Shirl. One night we were walking to the ablution block when Shirl darted off into the bush. I assumed she had seen a rat or rabbit moving in there, but it turned out she was chasing something else. As I watched in the moonlight, a large furry animal made its way across the grass in my direction, with Shirl in hot pursuit.
It came straight at me and before I could say “possum” it had climbed up my body and was sitting on my head. I didn’t have time to wonder how hilarious a woman with a possum on her head must have looked. As the adrenalin kicked in, with one swift movement I grabbed the furry thing and hurled it onto the beach.
Shirl scrambled after it and returned about half an hour later with a big gash in her leg. I, meanwhile, stumbled off to the loo, had a nervous wee, then ran hell for leather back to the caravan and collapsed in a heap. Fortunately, I had been wearing pyjamas, so I didn’t get any scratches from the possum’s notoriously sharp claws. I rang my husband Paul back in Auckland and blurted out the whole drama. He laughed his head off for a good five minutes.
The next morning, still in shock, I relayed the sorry tale during the Friday morning segment on Newstalk ZB I did back then with the late Paul Holmes. Once he had stopped laughing, he said, “It must have thought you were a big tree.”
“I may be tall,” I replied coolly, “but that’s where the similarity to a tree ends.”
Then phone calls came flooding in from people saying possums do indeed look for the tallest thing when they are rushing from danger.
Possums are bad news for New Zealand’s wildlife and plants, everyone knows that, so the possum in the shed was a warning to me. When we moved to our country property I whisked up all the poison bait stations and got rid of them. I don’t agree with poisoning wildlife. However, I took my responsibilities seriously and bought an expensive gaspowered trap that would kill a possum humanely. But it has been baited and ready for three years and never caught a possum.
The night after the shed discovery, our dog Flo woke me up barking her head off at 3am and stared determinedly out at the deck. I switched on the outside light and there on the deck railing was a possum… with a baby on her back. Flo and I watched them for a good 20 minutes as they twitched and sniffed, then I realised she might jump in our open bedroom window so hastily slammed it shut, scaring her away.
“I can’t kill a mother in a trap and leave the baby helpless,” I moaned to Paul the next day as we were discussing the likely need to upgrade our expensive trap and invest in the cheaper, but reliable, yellow Timms trap, which breaks their neck, killing them instantly.
“They’re a pest – you need to be responsible,” he said, putting on the stern voice he never really means.
Then we had a visit from friends who had once killed a mother possum and had to drown the baby – and still shuddered at the memory 10 years later.
So I did what any self-respecting, city-raised woman who finds herself living in the country does. I asked our lawn guy to kill them. To date, he has knocked off two in the shed and one in the orchard. He didn’t say anything about a baby, so neither did I.
But now, when I shut the hens up for the night, I set the Timms trap and hope there were only ever three possums on the property.