Possum fur – an ethical choice?


Few animal cruelty issues make my blood boil as much as the fur trade. Maybe I’ve just seen and read too much — appalling videos of animals kept for their entire lives in tiny cages and animals chewing off their limbs after being caught in a leg-hold trap — but when I see photos of vacuous celebs wearing fur it depresses, saddens and maddens me in equal measures.

Leg hold trap
Leg hold trap

Worldwide estimates of the number of animals killed for their fur are about 75 million a year. Incredible. And it truly is all for vanity, because let’s face it, who needs a fur coat, apart from Inuits?

Then there’s possum fur in New Zealand, touted as the ethical choice, often described as ‘eco fur’ or ‘helping the environment’. It’s kind of ironic that furriers are now seen as somewhat heroic for being the ‘saviours’ of New Zealand’s forests when you consider that possums were originally introduced here for the sole purpose of establishing a fur trade.

The cold hard facts

According to Te Ara Encyclopedia possums were released in New Zealand several times between 1837 and 1847, and it wasn’t until over twenty years later that a population was established. In 1921 the government decided to prohibit further releases but trappers thought otherwise and continued to release them illegally.

Possum in trap
Possum in trap

Now they’ve got their fur trade at the expense of New Zealand’s flora and fauna and we’re supposed to be clapping modern-day furriers on the back for killing creatures that were always part of a long-term plan to profit from in the first place? As a certain company would say: yeah right!

Don’t buy into the lie of ‘eco’ possum fur 

  • Like other animals trapped for their fur, possums suffer greatly. Leghold traps are brutal and cruel. They cause immense pain and trauma and some possums will suffer a slow and lingering death when trappers don’t return daily (as required by law). Such traps are also indiscriminate and can catch non-target animals. Whatever you think of possums, they don’t deserve that!

    Kiwi caught in leg hold trap
    Kiwi caught in leg hold trap
  • As with vintage fur, the use of any fur only perpetuates the idea that fur is acceptable. If you wear fur you’re basically a walking billboard for the horrors of fur farming and trapping.
  • Let’s be clear: there’s nothing eco about real fur – it’s environmentally unfriendly. Toxic chemicals are commonly used to preserve and process the skins and it also takes 20 times as much energy to process a coat made from animal fur as it does one made from fake fur. Fur coats are not biodegradable – they are coated in chemicals to stop them from rotting.

    Possum fur trimmed gloves... for those days you have cold wrists.
    Possum fur trimmed gloves… for those days you have cold wrists.

A 2011 study of fur farms by independent organisation CE Delft investigated farms in the Netherlands and Belgium to determine the impact of fur production on the environment. It found that with regard to different environmental issues, such as climate change and land and water use, fur is much more harmful than textiles.

  • Fur is a vanity product. It is not so cold that we need real fur in New Zealand. When mountaineers climb, they don’t do it in fur! There are manymodern, man-made materials that are warmer, lighter and more weatherproof than fur.
  • Many human pressures on the environment are more damaging than introduced animals but are not recognised as key threats.
Pointing the finger
Maybe it’s time to reassess. Have we just been pointing the finger in the wrong direction all along?
  • With estimates ranging from 30 -70 million possums currently inhabiting New Zealand, it is clear that the 1.5 million killed per year for the fur trade will do little to solve the ‘possum problem’. The Department of Conservation agrees, stating, “possum trapping does not reduce populations sufficiently to achieve a conservation benefit”.
  • The cottage industry that has sprung up around the possum fur trade is more about profit than helping the environment. When businesses profit from fur they will have a vested interest in maintaining possum numbers, not eradicating them.

A change of attitude

Possums aren’t fabric. They’re living, thinking, feeling individuals. Let’s stop demonising an animal that never asked to be here.

If we must control them, it needs to be done humanely and fairly. No leg-hold trapping. No 1080. The key alternative would be the use of fertility control, which would slowly reduce numbers over time – proven effective, on populations of unwanted animals like wild horses and deer in the US and in other countries. More effort should be made to develop these humane fertility control measures in New Zealand. Fur isn’t the answer – it perpetuates cruelty and doesn’t solve ecological problems.

Whether you’re a caring consumer, an environmentalist or a fashionista (or all three!) there are so many humane, warm and fashionable fabrics now that no one has an excuse for wearing fur – possum or otherwise.

Mandy Carter, SAFE Campaign Manager


27 Comments Add yours

  1. Kty says:

    Why doesn’t this article mention people who ‘trap’ possums for fur humanely. I personally shoot all my fur possums and for it be to successful it had to be a clean shot or there’s no point in going out to do it at all. I do it not for profit, but to help the environment- I could never make a profit this way! I do wish all the possums were eradicated so that our natives could flourish, but until then I shall help out the natives by taking out a few more every night. I respect the animal as an animal and therefore give them a humane death, so please, maybe don’t generalize us all as profit seeking, inhumane cold trappers, but New Zealanders that are trying to keep their land possum free for the sake of the natives?

    1. dee says:

      its nzds wasp infestation thats destroying our nz native trees they are stripping the leaves off the canopy’s as the leaves contaim moisture. Our nz possum is being blamed fir this when through my extensive study on pests in nz. Also this year we had the worst year of infestations of mice , rats and stoats! Our mz brushtail possum kills these pests but unfortuneatly our poor possum cannot keep up the pest control because our possum is being eradicated by the thousands each year so hence the mass infestation of these other nasty pests. Rats and stoats are the culprits for the decline in our native bird species as they climb trees and eat the eggs the stoat however snap the necks of our birds at night while they are sleeping at night or sitting on eggs in the nest. rats and stoats are fast and our native birds dont have a chance if these two preditors are lurking about . possums are to slow and too big so are rather a clumbsy and noisy animal so birds are aware of them foraging , so birds have ample time to fly away. Possums dont eat eggs as its not the protein they require, they get their protein from moths. Possums are earths little sanitisers , they strip back dead decaying bark off trees and eat the insects that are destroying those trees. We are loggers by trade so we see the what is destroying our native trees, fauna and flora and it certainly isnt the possum..! The possum is trying to eat the insects that are killing the trees. Also if your not aware the possum eats seeds and similar to the bird the seed has to actually go through the testinal track of these specific species of animal for the seed to germinate, so this is the process for how we get new natives growing in our native reserves and on farm land. The trees wouldnt be able to grow otherwise. The possum has a vital part to play in NZ and in the other countries it inhabits. Without the possum we may end up with no natives left in the world and this is why they are a protected species in most countries . NZ is the only country that has declared them a pest and slaughters them only to keep the fur trade going and the money generated by fur products and trade agreements offshore. 1080 drops are killing all our native species including our kiwi, tui, deer, pigs and native hawk. Its a sick game and I am sick to the stomach when I come across poisoned kiwi etc in our native bush blocks with 1080 pellet eesidue on their beaks or around the mouths of our wild native animal species, and for what to keep the lie going that the possum is a pest just so thwy can line their filthy pockets from the fur trade exports. Dont be fooled by lies and deceit. Start saving our brushtail possum in NZ or our native fauna and flora are in trouble of reproduction and growth and our native bird life are in touble of extinction from the infestation of rats, mice and stoats!!!.

    2. kam says:

      My father poisoned possums for several years in fiordland when I was growing up in the 1970 and early 1980’s. He used cyanide as it was quick and he hated the old traps and thought they were cruel. He respected the animals he worked with and it was important to him to do his work as humanely as possible and he truely believed everyone he took made a difference to the fiordland national park and its native flora and fauna which he loved so much. He did it to earn a living when there was no other work..to feed us. Many of his friends had worked culling deer and then in live deer recovery as well in order to protect our amazing heritage national park and earn a wage. My sister and I were always excited when the dead possums came home as sometimes there would be a live joey…wth a big enough fuss we would be allowed to kwep them and hand rare them which we did
      with the help of my mother 7 times over the years. I loved have them as pets. Although as they got to
      about 4 months old it was off to our friends possum farm for breading stock. They are marvelloys creatures and yet to dreadful damage to our firests…and yes they do eat eggs and chicks too!! Despite the great fondness I have for possums tgey are introduced and harmful to our native bush. We may never erradicte them but we do need to continue to try for the sake of our amazing native creatures.

      1. vchalcraft says:

        excellent perspective, Dee!

  2. julie thompson says:

    Kty, i agree with you, i feel sorry for the baby kokako chicks etc getting eaten alive in their nests every night in our forests. We need good solid evidence (references) before we are convinced about fertility control.

    1. Linda Sabino says:

      Hi Julie, Possum’s are not meat eaters they are vegetarians you are pointing the finger at the wrong animal, you may have a neighbours or wild cat around the area, stoat, or some thing of that type of animal.

      1. JW says:

        Hi Linda, Yes Possums are meat eaters! They eat chicks and eggs! There is ALOT of proof on this. 🙂 And I agree KTY, I am all for what you do and many many others like you

  3. Animals Animals says:

    As far as I’m aware, possums do not eat meat; they have a similar diet to what birds eat. You are confusing Opossums with the Common Brushtail Possum. Also, she clearly stated suggested alternatives in the blog. Did either of you actually read the whole thing?

  4. Animals Animals says:

    kty: ‘With estimates ranging from 30 -70 million possums currently inhabiting New Zealand, it is clear that the 1.5 million killed per year for the fur trade will do little to solve the ‘possum problem’. The Department of Conservation agrees, stating, “possum trapping does not reduce populations sufficiently to achieve a conservation benefit”.’

    Again: Did you actually read the whole article?

    1. Simon says:

      Dear Animals Animals,

      Perhaps you didn’t read kty right – they are shooting possum, not trapping, so trapping effectiveness isn’t the issue.

      I would also note that figures for possum trapping from DoC is nation wide, and doesn’t state anything about the local area effectiveness of any particular trapping, hunting or poisoning campaign.

      If kty keeps at it, the effect of possums on the local area will be reduced, even if more possums flood in from surrounding areas to replace them.

      1. dee says:

        DOC= Dickheads On Crack!
        DOC=Department Of Control! or Department Of Controlling the masses!
        DOC=Destroyers Of Conservation!

      2. JW says:

        Agree Simon 🙂 animals animals….We have proof in our area that local trapping and shooting does work.better to be doing something than nothing al all! AND yes Possums do eat chicks and eggs, there is a lot of evidence to back this up!

  5. dana says:

    I believe it is cruelty but also isnt. Its not the possums fault it got brought here and has over populated. But they do a lot of damage to the native bush and the native wildlife. While leg hold traps do harm the animal they are not near as bad as they used to be. Some people that do leg hold traps are being cruel as they leave them out there for days while others are just overnight.

  6. Honora says:

    Unfortunately possums have been caught on camera eating baby birds. But don’t take my word for this reasonably well-known piece of information…

    “Possums eat the eggs, chicks, and sometimes adults of several native bird species. They also eat the fruit and flowers that birds need for food. Possums eat native bats, insects and snails.” Source: http://www.teara.govt.nz/en/possums

    “Possums disturb nesting birds and sometimes eat the eggs, chicks, and even adult native birds. Possums have been caught on camera eating kokako eggs and chicks”. Source: http://www.wildaboutnz.co.nz/2010/12/possums/

    That said, many’s the time I’ve pleaded for fellow trampers not to kill them when we have encountered them.

  7. Gail says:

    I get so mad, when I hear people say that Possums destroy our native forest………….i have to laugh, look around you, New Zealand use to be all forest, destroyed by…….wait for it, YES,………..Humans, and in 2013, humans are still destroying areas of woodland and forest to build ugly modern houses,

    1. Ingrid says:

      At last, someone who is talking sense! Destruction of native habitats by humans is the biggest threat to fauna and flora and probably our biggest challenge. But it’s the elephant in the room, everybody wants to ignore the issue and instead point the finger and blame at any one of our animal populations.

      1. mF says:

        Like the Elephant in the room.
        In denial

    2. Mf says:

      So right Gail
      So whose the worst pest here
      Needs lots of collaboration to arrive at a acceptable resolve.

  8. Linda Sabino says:

    Its not the Possums that are destroying New Zealand’s woodlands its the people you are burning wood fires you need more and more wood every year this is a fossil fuel not at all good for the environment.

  9. dee says:

    I totally agree with everything you have written in your website about our possum in nz. In over 30 yrs I have witnessed the severed cruilty to our possum from people stomping on there heads including the tiny possum kittens, deliberate speeding up while driving just to run them over on our roads and people allowing their dogs to catch and mutilate them! NZders have alot to.

    answer too when it this type of behaviour is sick animal cruelty

  10. dee says:

    Theres a new facebook page ” Domesticate the brushtail possum in nz. Check it out if you are against possum cruelty and the sick use of 1080 . join and have your say on the matter. we would love to have some new members .

  11. dee says:

    Also I would like to let those whom follow this website that in the 30yrs of studying the nz brushtail possum I can state that possums do Not eat eggs or baby birds in their nests. Possums are prone to getting semonella poisoning so cannot eat raw poultry or any raw bird! Eggs are not the protein they require they get protein from moths
    You would have to litterally starve the possum before it’ll consider an egg. I have witness first hand rats in trees devouring eggs and including baby birds ang also the stoat which snaps the necks of our baby and adult birds in the nest. Our brushtail possum is our little saviour for upon studing their behaviour in the wild I have watched them sneak up on rats and stoats and kill them. I however watched how someone can use photoshop and video editing to make it look like the possum is to take the blame for the reduction of our native birds. Just remember whos incontrol of keeping the fur trade going in nz and who else is making and continuing the use of 1080 .Our nz givernment is to blame for these lies and allowing the cruelty to carry on in this country. Also if you are not aware, when theres a wasp infestation in an area they have tbeen known and seen eating and stripping the leaves off our native trees and leaving the canopy. slightly nakid of leaves . The reason for this is the leaves contain moisture and wasps need to drink so they take pieces of leaves back to the nest. Theres a saying that says” If someone told you to jump off a bridge , Would you? . So our Govt tells you possums are pests! Now do u believe them or do your own research before you believe what your told. Oh and who made up that absurd number of possums in our country? And I can tell you it was probablysomeone sitting at a desk and who has never been in our native bush land. So they just made up an extreme number to make their lies seem plausible and believable to keep the fur trade going. There are way to many sheeple in this country. And conservation nz are in the band wagon too, because look who’s paying them , oh thats right the nz govt.

  12. dee says:

    Most of my studies on the brushtail possum and other pests was done on our 4500 acre native bush block farm in national park region of NZ and also in and around the karioi lakes reserve at the base of mount ruapehu. Studies were also done in the kaimai ranges around the bay of plenty nz and also observed possums that lived in and around fruit orchards .

  13. Alana says:

    I’ve never understood the mindset of ‘those animals are bad for the environment so I’m going to kill them.’ Who or what gives you the right to be the one to pull the trigger or set the trap? The only animal who really kills the planet are humans. I grew up in NZ and I knew many men who purposely ran possums over on the road, with this mob mentality mindset – ‘They kill our forests’. We would never apply these actions to corporations who mow down thousands of hectares of rainforests everyday. Is it that possums are defenseless and make an easier target?

    Humans interfere with nature and we spend years trying to fix our mistake. And the animals are always the ones who pay.

    Look at Queensland – the Govt released cane toads to help eradicate a cricket problem. Now years later, the cane toads are destroying native animals (the native animals eat them and die because they’re poisonous) and now cane toads are overpopulated and we purposely cull them. When are we going to learn? Stupid and deadly – that’s us. Not them.

  14. lynn says:

    Its not possums that are a problem they are intelligent animals I had one for many years the problem is us , Human beings we are the MOSt destructive creatures on the earth when this is learned then maybe it will be a better world.

  15. Sarah says:

    “you may have a neighbours or wild cat around the area” … oh yes – here we go .. BLAME THE CATS!! This infuriates me!

  16. Susan Hart says:

    I wish I had known that leg hold traps are used to capture the animals before purchasing one of Zealana’s possum blend yarns. There are too many other fine quality wool yarns available that I don’t think there is any need to use one that involves animal cruelty.

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