After RepsElect, I was wandering home through the Inner West around 1am. It was a clear night and the street was well lit. I looked up to see a small ringtail possum sitting on a powerline above me. The possum was little — bunny-sized, and cute, of course. I made a soft gasp, delighted at its presence here in suburbia. The possum looked down on me, relaxed. I felt the sighting must be a good omen of some sort.
My favourite thing about Sydney is that — even close to the city centre — there are pockets of biodiversity and remnant bush all over the place. I’ve seen possums on campus, flying foxes overhead, and all manner of sea birds. But not everyone is so delighted by the immediacy of the natural world all around us.
Possums are viewed by many people as a pest. Possums, especially brushtail possums, which are bigger and bolder than ringtails, are notorious for gaining access to people’s roofs and wreaking havoc in their gardens. In response, people seek to exact all sorts of revenge on the marsupials, which generally prefer to live in either tree hollows (in the case of brushtails) or a nest-like drey (in the case of ringtails).
If you search ‘possum removal service’, the vitriol the average Sydneysider holds towards our possum population is regrettably clear. Pest removal services with various violent business names (the words ‘kill’, ‘dead’, ‘control’ and ‘busters’ appeared frequently in my casual search) offer possum removal and relocation to desperate clients.
Genuine relocation of possums is extremely inhumane, as they are territorial animals that are unlikely to survive a move, so federal law prohibits moving the animals from the property on which they were captured. Instead, possum removal services largely just take possums out of people’s roofs and attempt to close whatever entry point the animals were using to enter. Yet the FAQ sections of their websites are littered with questions about whether the animals can be killed or taken outside of their territory. Attitudes towards possums are at best resentful and frequently outright possum-cidal.
This is foolish — it’s ultimately not that hard to seal your roof (and a good idea, possums aside). A piece of fruit here and there, a thump on the roof every now and then, is a small price to pay for living in a place with such rampant biodiversity.
What’s more, possums don’t end up in our roofs for no reason. The decline of mature, hollow-bearing trees is driving possums to find shelter elsewhere. Protecting mature trees where we can, creating new forest habitat for the creatures, and providing artificial nesting boxes where needed are far more sympathetic ways to keep possums out of our roofs. Relocation is not enough — we need habitat.