2002.12.18 Pickled possum pelt

Written by David Green.

By DAVID GREEN

POSSUM FUR. It’s the hair of the future and it’s coming your way courtesy of the possum harvesters of New Zealand.

When New Zealanders talk about the possum, they aren’t seeing the opossum that we know here. They’re talking about a smaller, distant cousin known as the brush-tailed possum.

This invader was introduced to the country from Australia in 1837. The population has  grown and grown until it’s said to be eating its way through New Zealand, gobbling up everything from saplings to bird eggs.

One source estimates that possums consume 21,000 tons of plant material every night. They’re destroying forests. They’re destroying the habitat of many native species. And consequently, they’re being turned into pelts—either raw, air-dried, pickled or crust.

The possum problem is causing quite a dilemma for wildlife campaigners. Do they speak out against the slaughter of the possum or do they support the protection of the native forests?

For some, the compromise position is that there are better ways to handle the problem than by trapping or dropping poison from helicopters. Possum contraception is suggested, however that gets accomplished.

NOT EVERYONE wants the dreaded “Australian possum” eradicated. Some people are making a good living off the pests.

Enter Eco-Fur from the New Zealand Nature Company, a firm that has “just begun processing this abundant resource.” Some people might have trouble combining “ecology” with “fur,” but that’s an indication of the severity of the problem.

A good size brush-tailed pelt measures at least 20 inches by nine inches. Firsts and seconds get used for garments, such as coats. Thirds and fourths go for smaller items, such as cuff trims and toys.

A quality pelt shows little damage, but it can be a rough life in the wilds. Fighting, mating, accidents, sickness—there are plenty of ways to ruin a good coat.

Colors are described as ranging from redneck and rusty to greys and dark browns. Some are grey with a reddish underfur. Some have yellowish flanks and creamy pink bellies.

Possum fur is soft, lightweight and seven percent warmer than wool. It’s right up there with polar bear fur for warmth. It’s described as a luxurious fur that nearly everyone can afford. What can you do with a good possum pelt? Read on.

A NEW Zealand gift company uses the slogan: “Possum–more than just roadkill.” The company offers Davy Crockett hats (the symbol of rugged individualism) with an extremely full bushy tail.

Bedspreads, blankets, blended socks and sweaters, bush hats, gloves, scarves and hot water bottle covers. That last item might need some marketing help, and it’s offered: “Life doesn't get more luxurious than snuggling up with a super soft possum fur lined hot water bottle. The sturdy dome closure makes inserting your hotty easy. Sometimes it is easy to have the best.”

For your cat, there are possum fur balls filled with catnip and rice. For the kids, there’s an Eric the Possum hand puppet and a Tartan Teddy Bear. For your friends in the Orient, where it’s said to be prized as an aphrodisiac, there’s possum meat.

The possum fur people say they’re constantly exploring new uses, and to prove their point, there’s also the possum fur G-string. “Soft and cuddly like mink, they make a wonderful novelty gift that will be talked about forever more. Made with Eco-Fur from the brushtail possum.” Black or natural red.

We haven’t talked money yet. The G-string (one size fits all) can be purchased for 6.39 dinars in Iraq, 97,565 afghanis in Afghanistan, 100,646 kwatcha in Zambia or 316,110.58 dong in Vietnam.

That’s $20.54 in U.S. dollars, or they’ll call it even for .06 ounces of gold. Don’t delay. The Christmas shopping season is scurrying past, just like a possum in the night.

    – Dec. 18, 2002 

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