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Kiwis Against Possums: A Critical Analysis of Anti-Possum Rhetoric in Aotearoa New Zealand

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The history of brushtail possums in New Zealand is bleak. The colonists who forcibly transported possums from their native Australia to New Zealand in the nineteenth century valued them as economic assets, quickly establishing a profitable fur industry. Over the past 80 or so years, however, New Zealand has increasingly scapegoated possums for the unanticipated negative impact their presence has had on the native environment and wildlife. Now this marsupial—blamed and despised—suffers the most miserable of reputations and is extensively targeted as the nation's number one pest. This paper examines anti-possum rhetoric in New Zealand, identifying the operation of several distinct—yet related—discourses negatively situating the possum as (a) an unwanted foreign invader and a threat to what makes New Zealand unique; (b) the subject of revenge and punishment (ergo the deserving recipient of exploitation and commodification); and (c) recognizably “cute, but...” merely a pest and therefore unworthy of compassion. This paper argues that the demonization of possums in New Zealand is overdetermined, extreme, and unhelpfully entangled in notions of patriotism and nationalism.

Affiliations: 1: Co-director, New Zealand Centre for Human-Animal Studies, University of Canterbury, P.B. 4800, Christchurch, Aotearoa New Zealand;, Email:


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