If cleanliness defines you, then a clean backyard or lawn must be one of your top tasks in that long checklist.
The process is cumbersome and tiring enough as it deals with shaping hedges, pruning back the leggy and frost-damaged stems, getting rid of leftover debris around the plants, crabgrass, weeds, and the list goes on.
Apart from all these, sudden unwelcome guests in the Backyard may be a bit too much to take in, especially when you find the garbage cans tipped over on the patios that you cleaned just a day ago! Getting rid of the pests might be the first thing you would ever think of in a scenario like this.
Pests like Opossums, more commonly called Possums, are well-adapted to populated areas, so much so that there are about 30 million of them in New Zealand today, which definitely is a threat not just limited to one’s Backyard but to the forests and native wildlife as well.
Do Possums Pose a Threat?
- Possums are omnivores (versatile eaters) that feed on eggs, snails, insects, and native birds.
- They are potential carriers of bovine TB (tuberculosis), which they spread to cattle.
- They are definitive hosts of Equine Protozoan Myeloencephalitis (EPM), micro-organisms that kill horses.
- Farmers are the prime victims due to Possum attacks on crops and vegetation.
- They eat pasture plants, like clover and herbs, and thus less food left for farm animals.
- They eat nectar and berries, leading to a lesser food for the native birds.
- They cause widespread damage to horticulture.
- They harbor parasites like fleas and ticks and are resistant to rabies, unlike other animals.
- A high reproducibility rate (more than one offspring per year) allows Possums to increase rapidly.
Merely nothing can be done to get rid of Possums entirely but bringing down the numbers to a level where the damage caused by them is still sustainable is the critical lookout.
What is the State Doing About the Pest Problem?
Millions are spent by the Government to control Possums every year as damage control measures, starting from introducing regulations to keep a check on the increasing population by paying incentives to the operators to pay back a considerable amount for the livestock loss to the farmers. A few control measures are enlisted:
Biological control (or Biocontrol): A way of controlling inflation of one living organism (like pests) using another living organism or their products like the use of toxins or vaccines against Possum fertility.
Trapping, Hunting, Poisoning: Depending on the extent of affected areas, the Government has employed workers of DOC, regional councils, and specialists of pest control companies to keep a check on the increased population of Possums.
- Trappers lay a line of traps along Possum runs, which hold them firmly, causing pain and suffering in case of struggle or any such movement.
- Others find it easy to let the trained dogs hunt them down.
- Individual trapping was done earlier to sell the skin of these fur-bearing marsupials for producing high-quality yarn and earn some handsome bucks.
- Hunters shoot a Possum usually with either a shotgun (12, 16, or 20 gauge recommended) or a 0.22, 0.17. 0.22 magnum or Centrefire rifles. Hunting down Possums is legal in Alabama, California, and Tasmania.
- The hunters prefer to shoot a Possum at nights with a 0.22 rifle fitted with a telescopic sight, aiming for its head, neck, or chest for a sudden and painless death.
It is believed that a humane way to inflict the pest is by poisoning them with cyanides and 1080 (Sodium monofluoroacetate) to cause the least amount of pain possible. Availing both these toxins are permitted only to the licensed operators. All the precautionary measures are to be checked when dealing with these toxic materials.
On the bright side, all these methods have created employment for the ground crews and skilled hunters over the years.
What Can be Done About your Backyard?
Spotting a Possum presence
This is a crucial step as it is necessary to know what you are dealing with before setting up the trap or shoot a Possum. You may not want to harm kittens or puppies in any possible way. Hence, it might be tricky to act upon.
- The footprints leave traces to identify the targets quickly. The hind feet have an opposable big thumb with five toes that appear like a distorted hand.
- Trails of oily-yellow droppings (about the size of jellybeans).
- Burrows in dark, dry sites and/or nests in tree cavities can confirm their presence.
Intruder Alert Check
Apart from the preliminary operations like trimming shrubs, closing off any denning site openings, installing chimney caps to bar pest entry inside the home, and putting metal spikes on gutters or beneath the trees, you can opt for methods like:
Fences are designed in a way to keep all the pests away from barging into the property.
- One-way doors
- Installing hardware cloth
- Mesh-wire electric fence
- Strips of stainless-steel porcupine wires
- Sunken perimeter fencing, etc.
Hitting with a blunt metal object or a hard blow right onto the center of its head is one way to let the animal rest in peace with no pain at all.
- It is advisable to talk to the local or regional council to shoot a Possum.
- Laws governing Possum protection and preservation vary from one state to another, depending on the extent of harm or threat posed by it.
- Alabama, USA regulation 220-2-.27 permits the property owners or tenants to shoot a Possum per incident, causing damage to their properties.
- Possums are considered a game animal in Alabama, and the state has established annual hunting and trapping seasons.
- One can use a rifle of 0.22 caliber, or a shotgun loaded with No. 6 shot or larger can be used to shoot a Possum in the Backyard.
- Possums have no superior protection in California. The state law permits dispatching of the scavenger, affecting one’s property ‘at any time or any manner,’ without a license.
- Tasmania State laws also permit the kill or shoot a Possum under Crop Protection Permit.
- Dirt-hole sets or cubby sets are effective traps to be lined along the fences or trail-ways.
- Cage-traps: Tube style box traps (6 or 8 inches wide and 24 inches long) made from round PVC pipes. It is advisable to talk to the local or regional council to lay live traps.
- Catch-pole, dogs, cat graspers, and hand nets can directly deter Possums.
- Unlicensed operators can use toxins/poisons that involve low poisoning risks like:
- Cholecalciferol (an alternative of 1080) – cereal-based bait raises blood calcium levels, causing calcium imbalance.
- Brodifacoum (a synthetic anticoagulant) – causes internal hemorrhaging, leading to cardiac arrest.
- Pindone (anticoagulant pesticide) – gives a heart attack.
Pre-feeding Possums with non-toxic baits at first and later replacing them by toxic ones are easy to get rid of. However, all the precautionary measures must be taken when dealing with these toxic materials and keeping them away from children for safety.
Note: No repellents, toxicants, and fumigants are registered for the control of Possums. Contact your local or regional council, DOC, and Animal Health Board to address incidents regarding Possums.
Possum ‘Playing Possum’
Once you figure out ways to shoot a Possum, an essential thing for you to know is that Possums are tricky! When cornered, they will try to scare you with primitive fierceness and may also attempt to escape into their burrows or climb trees.
But when caught or after you shoot a Possum, they master an act of ‘playing dead’ by rolling onto their back or limping or even hang their tongue out to fake death, and this way, ‘playing Possum’ gained its popularity.
At times, these pests do not move when approached, faking sickness or injury. It is advised to evacuate the area until it moves, then remove it only after 24 hours. Possums exude a foul, greenish fluid to defend itself when frightened, and the excreta may carry micro-organisms potential enough to spread by contact. It is essential to ensure that no person or animal comes into its vicinity.
Tips to Ensure Safety
During the entire act of hunting down Possums, you must take the following precautions as they are potential carriers of deadly diseases.
- Restrict direct contact.
- Wear protective clothing, like gloves, when handling.
- Clean the injury or wound immediately, if bitten or scratched, with warm water and soap.
- Seek medical advice if you develop a sore.
Breathe in the fresh air, and enjoy a leisure walk on your clean patios!