Autumn 2003
Possum Management


Management Options for Conservation Of The Brush-Tail Possum In The Urban Environment

A paper written and presented by Ben Luxton at a Seminar in The Waite Institute in 1996 and can be also found in the Seminar Proceedings, Pages 29 -31 "The Common Brushtail Possum in South Australia" Adelaide, South Australia

May 29th, 1996



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This session investigates four of the potential options that are available for the management of the Brush-tail possum in the urban environment.     Education and instilling a positive appreciation for a protected, native marsupial will have the most long-term benefit but is also the option requiring a steady stepwise approach to achievement.     The process should be commenced now or we will continue to use band-aid management strategies to deal with problems as they arise rather than managing for a long term goal.


Potential Management Options


(1.) Education


The study conducted by Diana Papenfus in 1990, reaffirmed previous anecdotal evidence that the Brush-tail possum was not held in particularly high regard by society.     Programmes which engender a positive appreciation of the species should become of primary importance as they will provide the most successful long-term management option.     The following suggested methods of alleviating this negative response towards a protected, native, Australian marsupial should not be seen in isolation but could be built together in a step by step approach.


Detailed fact sheets on “How to live with Possums”, have proved very successful in WA. (Shea, 1993).     The Department of Conservation and Land Management in W.A. produced a fact sheet, containing useful information on “how to block up roof access points, net fruit trees and provide alternative, artificial roost sites”, rather than the all too frequent trap, remove and relocate options present in so many other Brush-tail possum leaflets.     The fact sheet situation in S.A appears to be a less than unified approach, currently local government agencies produce their own fact sheets, all on the same topic, all in isolation.     A far more useful approach would be the development of fact sheets which identify the problem, are generated by representatives of the groups concerned and designed to target particular audiences at the appropriate levels. The pensioner, whose prize roses am disappearing every night is not interested in the fact that the national distribution of Brush-tail possums has reduced dramatically, he/she is only interested on how to stop them stealing the roses.     The school group interested in erecting possum boxes around the school yard on the other hand would be interested to know that the once widespread Brush-tail possum is now limited in it’s range (Papenfus, 1990).


The existing practices of pest control companies, trapping and removing, “problem possums” could be modified to include a “possum proofing” and “possum box installation” service.    The destructive, trap, remove and destroy/relocate practices should not be used unless all other alternative methods of control have failed and clients should be made aware that this is a final solution for the animal(s) concerned.     The animal is not going to be set free to gamble away into a beautiful forest to live a long and full life of luxury, or live a long and fulfilling life in a large aviary supplied by one of the animal rescue groups in Adelaide, it is going to be killed.    Once all the positive attributes of sharing a dwelling with this “undisputed champion of the suburbs”, (Van Dyck, 1994) have been outlined, the fate of the individual should be placed in the hands of the person wishing the animal removed.


The availability of traps to anybody wishing to buy them is a matter of concern. Traps can be obtained from a wide range of pet stores and local government council chambers for a very small hiring or purchase fee.    I guarantee that Department of Environment and Natural Resources application forms for the trapping of a native species are not being distributed with every trap hired or purchased.     The availability of these traps requires regulation and perhaps one way of doing this is to publicise the prosecution of people contravening Part 5, Division 3, Section 55 of the National Parks and Wildlife Act, 1972, relating to the unlawful release of a protected animal and the associated $2,500 fine.     In conjunction with this approach, the media could be used to highlight the problems associated with the success of translocating Brush-tail possums.  


A major media push is required to spearhead the change in public opinion of the much maligned Brush-tail possum and was suggested back in 1990 by Diana Papenfus.     This media extravaganza should culminate the Brush-tail possum approach, launching the new fact sheets (“Possum Pointers”), together with the idea of “Possum Watch” to schools.     If every school aged child in South Australia went home with a nest box and a data sheet intending to supply a residence for their own wild Brush-tail possum in their backyard, then we would have gone a long way towards alleviating the further demise of a species in the urban area.     Scientific evidence has indicated that the longevity of individual Brush-tail possums is increased if the population is allowed to stabilise.     If the general public stop removing individuals and permit the establishment of long-term residents (Coulson and Haron, 1981), the scale of the problem would probably be markedly reduced.     Currently no census data exists which indicates the numbers of Brush-tails occurring in particular suburbs.     Imagine how easy it would be to collect that kind of data if virtually every backyard in South Australia had a couple of possum boxes and a person willing to indicate on a yearly return data sheet if their box(es) were occupied.


(2.) Translocation


On the basis of the reintroduction study conducted by Rod Pietsch in 1994, indicating that translocation of wild caught Brush-tail possums results in 70% of the total dying during the first week, translocation has virtually been ruled out as a management tool for this species.    I believe further study is required.    The Pietsch study indicated that the high mortality may be attributable to the large percentage of time the translocated possums spent denning on the ground and the lack of release site fidelity exhibited.     These factors could be artificially manipulated to provide a higher probability of survival for the translocated individuals.     Studies of the species have indicated that family groups appear to be important to the species, (McKay and Winter, 1987; Van Dyck, 1994).     If possums trapped at the same locality are “soft released” together into an area where artificial hollows have been made available, the problems of minimal release site fidelity and ground denning may be overcome.


It would appear from the presentation provided by some rescue organisations that these types of translocations may already be occurring.     It is unfortunate that they have not been linked directly with a scientific study and hence carry more weight amongst the scientific community.


(3.) Destruction


Do we know enough about the status of the animal to provide this as the only option?     If we remove all the Brush-tail possums from the urban area are we secure in the knowledge that further range reductions will not occur because reintroductions of genetically local populations will no longer be available?


Historically, illegal translocations have been occurring for a very long time.     In accordance with the Rod Pietsch study, this equates to a 70% destruction rate and as we still have a problem, perhaps this is only a short term answer.


(4.) Do Nothing


Just leave the situation as it is?     Not a particularly pro-active approach and perhaps not good for government public relations.




Coulson, R.I. and Haron, D.C. (1981) Population, Trade and Management of the Bush Possum.    In “Exploited and Endangered Wildlife”. Centre for Environmental Studies. University of Tasmania. Occasional Paper 12.


McKay, G.M. and Winter, J.W. (1987) Phalangeridae. In “Fauna of Australia” (Ed. D.W. Walton) A.G.P.S.


National Parks and Wildlife Act, 1972.


Papenfus, D. (1990) “Is The Common Brush-tail possum Still Common in South Australia?”.     University of South Australia, Conservation and Park Management Field Study.


Pietsch, R (1994) “Fate of urban, common brush-tail possums translocated to schlerophyll forest.       In “Reintroduction Biology of Australian and New Zealand Fauna” (Ed. M. Serena). Surrey Beatty and Sons, Melbourne, pp. 239-246.


Shea, S (1993) Living with Possums Landscope. 8:4 pp


Van Dyck, S. (1994) Brush-tail Business.  Aust. Nat. History. 24:8 pp.16-17.

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