Pilfered possums put paid to project

02:30, Jun 06 2014
Sani Sakalia
PEST BUSINESS: Meriana Haldane was among the students taking part in the Project Possum course at Cable Bay this week.

The theft of 60 dead possums, which were to be used during an environmental action course for high school students in Nelson, has led to the cancellation of a second planned course in Hokitika this week.

The possums, and the attached traps, were filched from a control contractor, who had trapped them over Queen's Birthday Weekend in readiness for the Nelson course, held at Cable Bay earlier this week, and the Hokitika course.

"He did it as a favour to us, and their theft meant the Nelson students could not get as much practical work in as planned," said Tasman District Council environmental education co-ordinator Adie Leng.

However, the 27 students from Golden Bay schools, Murchison Area School, Nayland College and the NZ Correspondence School managed to trap 33 possums of their own on nearby farmland. They used them to learn how to skin possums and pluck their fur, by hand and mechanically.

Run by Marty Taylor of Northland's Papa Taiao Earthcare, Project Possum aims to get students and teachers involved in environmental action.

Taylor is a consultant to Enviroschools and the Northland Regional Council, and in the four years that Project Possum has been operating, more than 200 Northland students have been involved in possum and mustelid trapping, environmental restoration, and environmental enterprise schemes.


"The course is part of a bigger set of courses I am running that attempts to lift conservation and environmental restoration as a career option for young people," Taylor said.

"The other programme we are taking around the country is Wai Restoration. With these courses, we are attempting address the needs of future New Zealand . . . where the damage being done by intensive farming will need to be repaired."

He said the possum course aimed to give students interested in conservation and environmental restoration some relevant skills, encourage them to set up their own small fur business, and help them gain relevant NCEA qualifications.

During the two-day course, students learn to recognise possum sign and behaviour, identify and select appropriate traps, and skin possums and collect their fur.

They are then given five traps each to start them off in a small business. They go away for eight weeks, record their trapping experiences and then return for assessment.

Taylor, a former high school teacher, has linked the course to the national education curriculum.

"Due to the support of Ian and Barbara Stuart, farmers at Cable Bay, and the support of Adie Leng, the course was a great success . . . with lots of laughs," he said.

Leng said the course was supported locally by the Department of Conservation, TB Free NZ, contractors and fur buyers.

"It's a course through which students can learn to make a living off conservation - it was well worth it."

Feedback from the course would be assessed before a decision was made whether to run another one next year, she said.