NOCTURNAL habits and the custom of living up trees have put the 'possum ahead of most marsupials in the long and losing struggle for survival. they have even learned to thrive in the Fitzroy Gardens in Melbourne, or in the North Shore suburbs of Sydney.
'Possums might be expected to rub shoulders with politicians in the pastoral setting of Canberra, but one entered the Prime Minister's office in the Treasury Buildings, Melbourne, when Mr. Hughes ruled the Commonwealth, while another bold wanderer was electrocuted on the wires just outside.
His valuable fur has long been a fatal possession for the 'possum. It was not so bad when shooters depended on the moon for light to slay 'possums. Only a few nights in each month was there light enough. It was an evil day for 'possums when acetylene lamps and motor headlights were invented. Their enemies became too often independent of the moon.
Far more treacherous and more deadly, however, is poisoning by cyanide of potassium. This evil habit has spread like a blight over many country districts. Even in the times when killing 'possums is legal this method is most repulsive. And the poisoners show little respect for close seasons. It is not 'possums alone that fall victims. Numbers of valuable stock are destroyed by the baits.
One delegate to the Stock Inspectors' Conference stated that in the Tenterileld district alone last year the loss of stock by poisoning reached the huge figure of £22,000.
There are no figures to show the total loss for the whole State, but It must be very heavy. No wonder the conference unanimously asked for a much stricter supervision of the sale of cyanide of potassium.
It is true that the conference was assured that the Chief Secretary's Department proposed to remove cyanide of potassium from part 2 to part 1 of the Act, which would make it more difficult to procure the poison.
Delegates seemed to hold that this was hardly a sufficiently heroic measure. They decided that it should be made impossible to buy cyanide of potassium without a certificate from the officer in charge of police for the district, setting out the purpose for which it was intended.
This proposal certainly does not err on the side of over-strictness. It would give plenty of room to buy cyanide for any lawful occasion.
The conference seems to have been mainly, if not wholly, concerned over the losses of stock due to poisoning. The destruction not only of 'possums but of other native animals and of birds by poison is also a very great evil.
How many farmers realise to the full what they lose by the destruction of their active allies, the insect-eating birds? Amongst the animals even the bandicoot, whose rooting habits lead many landholders to curse him heartily, if they do nothing worse to him, is a mighty hunter of insects, and probably does much good.
As to the 'possum, though he sometimes develops a taste for fruit, he is on the whole very harmless.