Soaring demand for possum lifts prices

Last updated 00:00 07/09/2007
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PRICES RISING: An increase in the price of possum pelts has led to hopes of a revival in the fur industry.

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Record possum-fur prices have boosted hopes of a $200 million garment industry being established in New Zealand.

Since falling steeply in the late 1980s, prices for the fibre doubled to $80 per kg between 2000 and 2005.

In the past three days, fur has shot up $15/kg to $105/kg – the equivalent weight of 12 to 15 possum pelts.

The $80m to $100m finished product industry is expected to double in the next 12 months, when demand by domestic and foreign markets will reach 75,000kg of fur – or about two million possums.

Snowy Peak Ltd chief executive Peri Drysdale, a pioneer of possum-fur clothing, said possum-fur manufacturing could become a substantial industry for New Zealand.

She hoped the high price would attract more people into fur recovery and create certainty about the industry.

"People need to understand the industry is here to stay, with New Zealand-based businesses highly regarded internationally."

Drysdale was disappointed the fur, which could only be harvested in New Zealand, was increasingly being sold to Chinese buyers.

"It is one thing that New Zealand has got that no other country in the world has got and to be exporting that added value, we don't need to," Drysdale said.

Nationally, about 200 full-time hunters each recover 100kg to 150kg of fur a month, and hundreds more do occasional recovery.

Haast professional hunter Phil Wright said even at $95/kg two days ago, the price was right to consider possum trapping full-time.

"I could work less hours during the day for twice as much money."

Peter Salter, of Pukekura, 50km south of Hokitika, is selling his tourist business, The Bushman's Centre, in part because he wants to return to possum hunting. With high fur prices and limitless demand, he expected older hunters would return to the role.

"There is a huge market. It blows me away there's not the number of people doing it."

Salter said it was incredible the Chinese took as much fur as New Zealand could provide, yet New Zealand continued to drop 1080 poison to control possums.

Fur contaminated with 1080 cannot be used to make clothes.

Fur buyer Basically Bush Ltd co-director Steve Boot said the price increase reflected the success of fur products over the past eight years.

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- The Press

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