As I was dropping off to sleep one night, I heard two shots go off. Bang, bang. Not too deep and booming, – light pops, – but forceful enough to do some damage. Evan was out on the possum hunt, and the next night it was my turn to get involved. I wasn’t sure how I felt about shooting dead any animal, let alone a possum, but my philosophy is to do as the locals do and try to understand what it’s all about. I was staying at a farm half an hour north of Whangerei with a warm, close-knit family who welcomed me in with open arms and a glass of ice cold home brew. Beautiful.
Possums are considered a pest over here in New Zealand. With an estimated 30,000 possums in the country, the advice in New Zealand is to control the population by killing these animals. Introduced from Australia in order to kick start some fur trade in New Zealand, they are fast eaters with a taste for ‘new growth’ and bark and fruit and berries and birds and small animals, and to top it, they are responsible for the spread of bovine tuberculosis in the country. The result is major ‘damage to native forests’, New Zealand’s ecosystem as a whole and constant monitoring and slaughtering of cattle.
As nocturnal animals, the time you are most likely to encounter a possum is when it’s splattered on the road. ‘You haven’t seen any possum road kill?’ asked one German traveller who gave me a ride when I was hitchhiking down to the beach one day over Raglan way, ‘How have you missed them?!’ But during my travels my focus has barely been on the road itself. It’s been nearly five months since I last drove a car, and amongst other things, I don’t miss the road kill.
It was 10:30pm on the first clear night in a while and we were ready with flashlights and rifle and a German Shepherd who loved nothing more than to munch on the skull of a freshly fallen possum. The four of us walked the perimeters of the farm, traipsing across fields, shining beams of light into the trees in the hope that a possum would look our way its beady red eyes would shine out. I wondered: if I was to spot one, would I betray its whereabouts? After all, that was the point of coming out on the hunt. Find, shoot, kill. Protect the orchard trees that were currently getting munched on a near nightly basis, all the best fruit destroyed and distorted, chunks chomped out. But I didn’t spot a thing, neither did the others, and we returned to the house with only the taunting, throaty call of one from across the valley ringing in our ears.
So why did I feel strangely relieved? I’m not a vegetarian, I grew up on a farm, I believe that I understand the circle of life and the process of producing meat for food and the need to control pests in order to protect crops, so it shouldn’t be such a big deal. But something sits uncomfortably. It could be the same reason that I avoid squishing spiders and other living things (mosquitos excluded): it’s the idea of killing a living thing, where one moment something is breathing freely and the next its existence is cut dead by one small movement of a human being. There is the line of thought with which I totally agree that says: if you can’t kill an animal, then don’t eat meat. I’m considering it.
‘Just look at other animals’, said a friend of mine, ‘a lion won’t stop to consider whether he should or shouldn’t kill and eat the zebra, he just does it. He needs to to survive’. And sure, there is that whole argument, but as human beings we have reasoning and logic. Maybe I’m just not being very logical here. Possoms are pests in New Zealand and because the possum has no predatory threat, the Kiwis need to do something to keep the possum population under control, whether that is with a shot gun or cyanide. And this experience? I could see that it wasn’t a bloodlust thing; it was purely matter of fact.
The other day I got an email from a friend that ended ‘Take care possum’. If only she knew.