Monday, April 5, 2010

On rabbits and possums in New Zealand

To travel in New Zealand for any period of time is to get a lecture on possums and rabbits. Possums and rabbits, I tell you. They are the scourge of the country's native wildlife, and no kiwi conversation is complete without a serious talking-to on the ills of importing animals that don't belong and a justification of the eradication programs, including an unofficial one undertaken by farmers where they illegally imported a rabbit virus from Australia while lawmakers wrung their hands and decided what to do. People look upon dead possums and rabbits with a glee I could not possibly have predicted, nor have I seen elsewhere.

There are dead possums and rabbits everywhere, all over the roads, and these seemed to be thickest on the west coast moving south from Greymouth to about Bruce Bay, where they thinned out a bit. Leaving Wanaka and heading to Queenstown, they turned to rabbits, virus be darned. As a cyclist, you get an up-close view of the critters, and even knowing how voracious they are, and how stoats (another famous villain in New Zealand) kill and break eggs for sport, it's hard not to get a glimmer of thinking it's not their fault. Worry not! You will soon be disabused of your love for things furry, and will occasionally offered them on the menu, like at the Bushman's Center in Pukekura on the West Coast, where I posed for a picture that shows me as better rested and significantly younger than I would feel on the rest of the trip.

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And I snapped this shot of a menu which details the roadkill offerings:

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And then you can always get a possum pie.

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Which hopefully didn't get into any of this poison before giving up its midsized possum ghost.

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But the most curious thing of all to me is not the introduction of foreign species, nor the plans to eradicate them, or even the joy in finding them dead on the side of the road, nor even making them into yesterday's lunch. What I could not get my brain around was this practice:

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It seems to involve hanging the dessicated remains of a rabbit from the farm fence. A warning to other hippity-hoppers? A sentinel? Some kind of offering to the great beyond? I do not know if you pick up a fresh one and hang it up or wait for it to dry out and then fly the dead-rabbit flag. I asked several people about this practice and they claimed to never have seen it, but I saw it on several occasions. This particular one was going over the Crown Ridge from Wanaka to Queenstown, during which a loopy and fun Canadian I met named Eleanor passed me in a car and shouted out the only piropo I heard the whole time I was in New Zealand. Which luckily did not cause me to run over a rabbit or a possum, though perhaps that would make a better ending to this story. There are a couple of pictures of me on her blog, if you're feeling scrolly.

3 comments:

Nimble said...

There is a tradition from long ago to hang up the carcasses of killed predators (hawks, foxes, etc.) as some sort of 'warning' to the others. Magical thinking in other words. Don't see why you'd bother with symbolic msgs to herbivores but what do I know.

Candice said...

Damn, that poor little bunny looks so pathetic up there. Couldn't they have at least used the remains for rabbit stew?

Annje said...

I saw a baby opossum in my back yard the other day and I thought of you. I had only seen adult ones. The babies are so cute! But they hiss... who knew?