I think most people living in the U.S. would agree, the possum is not an animal that springs to mind when they think of a source for either fiber or food. (Pic source)
I have seen many a possum in my life and until recently had no idea there is more than one kind of possum (103+ species). Nor did I know possums are destroying New Zealand’s ecology! My education started a few weeks ago, and I have learned a lot.
En route to the Sierra Nevada mountains, my fiber pal Summer and I stopped at Filati Fine Yarns in Rocklin, California (an amazing button selection there, by the way), where my fingers touched a wonderful fiber. I picked it up and saw the label read “Rimu” by Zealana. My eyes were drawn to the small print: 60% New Zealand merino, 40% possum. In my mind’s eye I saw a possum peering at me from behind a garbage container in the dark and was stunned. Well of course I just had to buy the yarn.
As I walked to the counter, the clerk hurried to inform me that the possum isn’t “ordinary” possum but, rather, New Zealand possum. She said it in such a way I thought it was some sort of southern hemisphere exotic marsupial. I like to know what I’m knitting with, so I did a little reading.
The Common Brushtail Possum (pic source) of New Zealand is not exotic. Indigenous to Australia, it was introduced for pelt and food in the first half of the 19th century by European colonists/settlers. Today New Zealand’s possum population is estimated to be over 30 million! In New Zealand, it has no natural enemies and is, at best, considered a pest. At worst, it has been extremely destructive to the ecological balance and environment of New Zealand and, further, carries bovine tuberculosis. (Read more about this problem at New Zealand’s Department of Conservation). According to Wikipedia, its fur has been used commercially in clothing since 1996 and is also used to trim jackets and make gloves.
I mentioned this to New Zealand blogger ordinarygoodness, who confirmed that this possum preys on native trees, plants and unique bird life of her country. She is pleased that fiber folks can make good (very good) use of the possum fur!
I admit I wondered if the fur we are knitting from comes from a possum ranch in New Zealand. (Yes, I hear the snorts and howls of laughter from our southern hemisphere bloggers.) I suggested to Thor perhaps we should look into it. (He was not supportive of the idea.) No, they are not ranch raised; the fur made into yarn comes from the wild-caught possums.
As this animal is ecologically devastating to New Zealand, I think our knitting and crocheting with Rimu is our small contribution to helping New Zealand’s ecology. (I am sticking to that story when Thor sees my possum yarn cache. 🙂 If you haven’t yet worked with possum, give it a try!
Karen Berthine, now a devotee of possum fur!
P.S. Did you know that the Virginia (O)possum was once widely hunted and consumed as food in the U.S. and that it is still a popular food in Dominica, Grenada, and Trinidad!? (If you are served manicou and think it tastes like rabbit or chicken, you’ve got yourself a plate of possum.) The tails are eaten in Mexico to improve fertility; look for “tlacuache” or “tlaquatzin.” I was curious whether Americans (in the state of Virginia or otherwise) still eat possum. Apparently they do. Take a peek at The Possum Cookbook. (I have a hunch that Thor may start closely inspecting dinner for a while!)