A friend asked me a question which I thought others may be interested in, too. It's about a photo I had on the blog several weeks ago:
The friend asked, what are the animals attached to the young man's backpack? And why are they there?
The answer is, the animals are possums.
They are native to Australia, but in the 19th century some were brought over to New Zealand in an attempt to establish a fur industry. Because they lacked predators in New Zealand, what actually happened was... they thrived to a point where in the 20th century their numbers were estimated at about 60 million. They are considered a major pest and Department of Conservation has an extensive programme aimed at bringing the numbers down. At the moment they're at about 30 million, I think.
Because their fur can be used by the clothing industry (when mixed with merino wool it makes for superior fibre), possum fur goes for over $100 a kilo.
The young man in the photo was one of the guides at Fox glacier where I interned in 2009. The guiding company 'serviced' some traps along the route to the glacier (they would set them last thing at night and check first thing in the morning) and when he found possums in the traps, he would take them home, pluck the fur and when he'd gather up enough fur, he'd sell it.
So that's what the photo is about: two dead possums attached to his backpack as he is walking home from the glacier.
Talking of which: in May when I visit Estonia, my book about Alaska will be re-published with a small addition about New Zealand in the back of it. An epilogue, if you may.
In it I explain some of it. For example:
"The people in New Zealand were, I started to realise, vastly different to one another. On top of the racial and cultural diversity which was to be expected because of how endemic it was to most Western societies, New Zealand had an added variety-factor: its terrain. On Fox glacier there were still men who earned bulk of their living trapping animals in the mountain ranges of the national parks and selling fur to clothing fibre manufacturers. Further down the coast there was a family with two kids living a two day walk from the nearest road, and surrounded by mountainous bush. Martins Bay holiday cottages were even further, a four day walk out of the roading network. In a lot of Western countries, such distances of remoteness were simply not possible, geographically speaking."