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Published: 21 April 2023

By Andy Ross

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The fur trade in Aotearoa New Zealand

Fur has been a controversial part of fashion for decades but in New Zealand the picture is a little more complex.

In the 19th Century brush-tailed possums were introduced to the country in order to create a fur trade. The animals established and spread and the fur business boomed. The introduction though was devastating to the indigenous flora and fauna. Possums, along with stoats, rats and mice, eat fruit, berries, leaves and eggs; even the young of native birds. They are such a danger to the unique life in Aotearoa that the Department of Conservation (DOC) has a programme of poisoning and trapping the animals, yet in their native Australia the animals are protected.

Fur for decades has been less popular in the fashion industry but it is still Big Business. Even though New Zealand imports fur to the value of millions of dollars each year, the local trade in possum fur is valuable. In fact, the country has a Fur Council to lobby for the use of the material. On the other hand, lobbyists and activists campaign against the trade on ethical and welfare grounds and there are people who keep possums as pets. The picture is made more complicated because possum fur is not farmed but rather trapped from feral populations, making it more confusing when speakng about animal welfare. . 

There is no easy answer to the situation in Aotearoa; feelings run high on both sides of the divide. Nearly 200 years after possums were introduced into the country, there are those who love and those who hate them. What is not in question though is the extent of the industry still in New Zealand with possum and possum blend yarns, garments and trims very visible in the shops.