Possums are an iconic Australian native animal. They are adorable, that is, until one moves into your roof.
There are two main types of possums we encounter, the ringtail possum and the brushtail possum (pictured above). The ringtail possum is smaller, quieter and is easily identified by a white tail. Normally, they make a nest from sticks, called a drey, so they are rarely a problem. The brushtail possum however can grow to the size of a cat, and is easily identified by a blackish furry tail. In the wild they live in tree hollows. In the absence of hollows, they move into manmade structures, and sound like a small horse in your roof.
The usual solution was to trap, then release the animal in a local park or nearby reserve. However, it was discovered nearly all these animals died. Possums are territorial and moving them into another possum’s patch will result in fighting and an eviction. In response, the government made it illegal to relocate possums further than 50 metres.
So how might you deal with possums which move into your roof space?
There are a number of simple, low-cost, possum friendly methods to make your roof less attractive to these lovely creatures:
- Install a light
Possums don’t like light, so a light in the roof cavity, attached to a timer to come on for a few hours in the morning. This could be as simple as an old fluro desk lamp on an extension cord. Low wattage globes that don’t get hot are recommended, so there is no fire risk.
- Place mothballs in the roof, especially near the point of entry
Strong smelling mothballs will deter possums (and other critters) from entering and residing in your roof and are a very easy, cheap solution.
- Unsettling Noises
Another idea is to record a dog barking or play loud music in the roof cavity. Play the noise an hour or so before day break, when the possum will be searching for digs for the night.
- Install a nest box
If you provide the possum with an attractive house of its own it’s less likely to live in yours. A major reason we end up with possums in the roof is that there are insufficient large trees to provide natural hollows. Only trees of 100 years old or more have suitable hollows. Many old growth trees have been removed since settlement for timber. And those perceived a danger to humans have been removed. So, there are insufficient hollows for all the animals that need them (birds, possums, lizards and bees).
Boxes can be easily made or purchased. Your local Men’s Shed probably make them and can show you how. A great book is Nest Boxes for Wildlife by Alan and Stacey Franks. The best type of box are “natural hollows” which are carved into dead trees by skilled arborists. They are better insulated, look natural and last longer. Regular possum boxes need to be maintained as the lids and bottoms fall off over time.
Seal up access points only when you are certain any possums have moved out. When I worked for WIRES I was called to rescue a possum from a lady’s wardrobe. Her handyman sealed a possum access point during the day. That night the trapped possum broke through the ceiling, wreaked havoc while looking for an exit, knocked over glassware and drank split brandy. The home owner found it asleep on her cashmere sweater.
If we want native animals for future generations to enjoy, we need to be more considerate of the animals we share the planet with. Or we risk losing them forever.