Living with Brushtail PossumsPossums in your home
Possum nesting box
Possums and gardens
Injured and orphaned Brushtail possums
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The lively brushtail possum is one of Australia's most familiar marsupials, largely because they are highly adaptable to a wide range of natural and human environments. Their natural and preferred habitat is forest, where they nest in tree hollows. They will also cohabit with humans in cities and towns where they seek shelter, warmth and protection in the dark recesses of buildings. A favoured spot is between the ceiling and the roof and this can be a problem to some people. They can damage crops and gardens because they are partial to exotic plants, pasture grasses and vegetables as well as native plants.
The following notes provide practical information to satisfy the house and landowner having problems with brushtail problems, without harming the animal. Remember, brushtail possums are protected by law and cannot be bought, sold, taken or harmed except by a permit (please phone the Wildlife Management Branch on (03) 6233 6556).
Our web site also has full details of the natural history of the brushtail possum.
Rats and mice make scratching, chewing and skittering noises. They have distinctive droppings, do not defecate where they are nesting and, unlike possums, may chew electrical wiring. Rats also collect seeds and grasses, but possums do not. Possums make loud heavy, thumping sounds when walking, and distinctive guttural growls, screeches, hisses and coughs when disturbed. You can find out for sure by looking inside the ceiling with a flashlight during the day or observing your house just on dark when the possum emerges.
1. Possums in the roof
Brushtail possums readily climb fences but many can be possum proofed. Possums can only jump about 1 metre vertically and cannot climb sheer walls. Therefore, a well-made tin or paling fence (with the frame on the inside and the palings butted but not overlapped) about 1.5 m high will keep them out. Wooden fences will of course need a tin section – at least 33 cm wide and 80 cm from the ground – around the corners. A simple ‘floppy-topped’ fence has proved very effective against possums climbing over ordinary fences. The fence is fitted with a netting top (chicken wire) that overhangs on the outside. As the possum (or cat or quoll) attempts to climb the overhang, it bends down and the possum will let go and fall to the ground. The floppy top then springs back to the original position (it is set on high tensile wire) ready for another assault.
A study by Deakin University in Melbourne (Pietsch 1994) found that the survival rate of possums relocated from an urban environment to a rural/bush environment was very low and the majority died within a week from predation or as a result of the relocation outside of their normal home range. Active possums are territorial and the survival skills they develop to live in an urban area are quite different to those skills required to live in a rural/bush environment.
As a last resort a permit can be issued to trap. These permits contain strict conditions on the type of trap to be used and what may be done with the animals.
For primary producers of crops and pasture who are experiencing browsing problems from possums, crop protection (spotlight) permits are available on application to the Department of Primary Industries and Water by phoning (03) 6233 6556.
To stop rain getting in, eaves should overhang by 110mm to 120mm. The entry hole (which doesn’t have to be round) should be located directly under it and be between 110mm to 120mm wide.
A sturdy length of branch screwed firmly to the front of the box is an optional extra that will help the possum enter and exit more easily.
Drill four holes (approx 5 mm) through the floor near each corner, to allow any water that might get in to drain out. Some nesting material (dead leaves, natural wood shavings) would provide extra insulation. Do not use chipboard, as it will disintegrate quickly.
Roses and fruit trees can be browsed unless protected. Repellents, fencing and netting can be effective. Trees can be protected by attaching a broad 40cm band of metal around the trunk at least 50 cm above the ground.
Wildlife Management Branch.
Wear protective gloves or restrain the possum in a blanket or towel if you need to handle it.
Possums are a part of suburban living and are not shy of humans. They provide a wonderful link between urban people and the natural world. Their antics and acrobatics are a delight to watch at night.
While possum populations are relatively stable at the moment, the effects of land clearing, road kill and cat and dog attacks can have a detrimental effect on their population and has elsewhere in Australia.
The Wildlife Management Branch is monitoring possum populations by conducting regular surveys around the State.
Notesheet - Living with Possums
Kerle, A. Possums, The Brushtails, Ringtails and Greater Glider. UNSW Press.
Smith, B. Caring for Possums. Kangaroo Press.
Strahan, R. (ed) (1995). The Mammals of Australia. Reed Books, NSW.
Temby,I. Wild Neighbours Citrus Press
For more information, advice or assistance
Contact: Wildlife Management BranchWildlife Management Branch
Department of Primary Industries, Parks, Water and Environment
134 Macquarie Street, GPO Box 44
Hobart TAS 7001
Phone: 03 6165 4305
Fax: 03 6233 3477
Thanks to the A.C.T. Parks and Conservation Service, for use of artwork and information from their Living with Possums brochure and also thanks to Native Animal Network Association Inc. (NANA) for their use of the Possum nest box design, www.nana.asn.au
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