Possums were introduced to New Zealand from Australia in the 1830s, in order to be trapped for their incredibly soft and beautiful fur. They are now highly-persecuted, not only by trappers but by ordinary people throughout the country, as their presence in a location where they have no natural predators has wrought environmental havoc by allowing their population to explode, causing major issues with biodiversity.
As usual, it is the actions of humans that have caused the catastrophe. Yet it is nonhumans who pay the price by becoming victims of what we would call ethnic cleansing if it were being carried out against individuals of our own species.
New Zealand farmers struggle to keep their crops protected against the appetites of a displaced species whose experience in fruit and vegetable farms seems to be much like that of ‘a kid in a candy store’. As a result, most New Zealand growers consider possum-killing efforts to be an essential part of their farming operations, adding an additional, sickening twist to the heartbreaking narrative of the tragic story of this exiled population.
In Gentle World, with Shangri-La being surrounded by native bush, we have had to find creative ways to live and farm alongside these persistent garden explorers. They might not understand that our crops are not intended for them, but nevertheless, they are still sentient individuals with a right to stay alive, even if (just like the human population) their presence does more to harm than to help the surrounding environment.
Yes, living with possums presents a challenge to our growing efforts, but we focus on finding nonviolent solutions to the situation of co-habitating with these creatures, spending a huge number of volunteer hours toward developing solutions that we hope will inspire others whose conscience is troubled by the carnage wrought by what we so coldly refer to as ‘eradication efforts’.
We hope to see more innovative solutions to the situation, as our society eventually progresses away from the speciesist mindset we currently hold. Prior to the recent catastrophe in Australia, we had sometimes hoped that one day the resources put toward extermination could be turned toward relocation. Now, however, one wonders if this species will ever again have a safe home to be relocated to.
Perhaps one day there will be contraceptive baits that will stop possums from breeding without causing horrifying reproductive cancers, but it’s hard to be behind such efforts when their development currently involves torture, by the name of “animal research“. Our priorities as a species are all screwed up, and that needs to change before we will see appropriate solutions to such a devastating problem.
Meanwhile, we encourage everyone to remember that we humans do more environmental damage than any other species on this planet, by a long shot, including introducing the possums (and many other species that don’t belong). If we genuinely believed in the sagacity of extermination in order to maintain the integrity of the planet’s ecosystems and those free-living animals who inhabit them, humans would be the first species needing to be “culled”. It is our speciesism that stops us from seeing how oppressive and barbaric such behavior is when deployed against animals who are not human.