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The University of Otago’s ecology programme yesterday posted, on social media, a story of New Zealanders keeping rescued brushtail possums as pets.
However, council biosecurity and rural liaison manager Andrea Howard said in parts of Dunedin, including the Otago Peninsula, West Harbour, Mt Cargill, Quarantine Island and Goat Island it was against the rules to keep the invasive marsupial as a pet.
Through the council’s regional pest management plan, the council supported the eradication of possums in those areas, Ms Howard said.
Possums had a significant impact on many of New Zealand’s natural ecosystems, she said.
The invasive marsupial ate buds, flowers, fruit and berries, and nectar, which meant the animals competed with native birds and reptiles for food.
The growth and life-cycle of native trees or plants was significantly affected when parts of it were eaten, she said.
Possums also ate young birds and bird eggs, threatening native wildlife.
They might also carry bovine tuberculosis, which they spread to cattle, Ms Howard said.
"The [council] is a proud supporter of the Predator Free movement and provides funding to Predator Free Dunedin who are actively seeking to suppress possum and mustelid populations," Ms Howard said.
A Dunedin City Council spokesman said the city council’s keeping of animal and birds bylaw was primarily focused on preventing nuisance and protecting health and safety, not controlling pest animals such as possums.
The spokesman referred further questions to the Department of Conservation or the Ministry of Primary Industries.
A university spokeswoman said posting the story, published by the Guardian, was intended only as a "conversation starter".