Save the Catani Possums

Port Phillip Mayor steps up possum kill in Catani Gardens

Protectors of Public Lands Victoria Inc.


Sunday 3 June 2007

Port Phillip Mayor steps up possum kill in Catani Gardens

On Friday last, around lunchtime, a friend of Protectors of Public Lands Victoria Inc (PPL VIC) observed workers of CityWide (a contractor hired by Port Phillip Council) high up on a cherry picker in St Kilda's Catani Gardens. They appeared to be taking out a sleeping possum from a large "possum box" (read trap) installed 20 metres up in one of the giant cypress trees and were forcing it into a large white bag, obviously for disposal. This represents a new development in the saga of the Council's bid to exterminate the colony of tame possums, which have lived in the Gardens for 80 years, delighting residents, tourists, plus generations of Melburnians.

Jill Quirk, PPL VIC Committee member, explains: "This latest covert operation follows the progressive installation over the last year of huge possum exclusion bands and traps designed to drive out the possums from their homes in the palm trees and to trap and euthanase them. It is most disturbing to discover that any possums, which managed to survive and flee to the cypress trees in the Gardens, are still being hunted and trapped. The absurd and discredited rationale for the banding given by Council bureaucrats in the past was that the possums are chewing fronds on the 103 palms and are damaging the trees. It is surprising that senior DSE officers and even Government Ministers appear to have swallowed the Council line that the colony of possums (now reduced to only 41) can damage enormous 90 year old palm trees by chewing fronds. They can hardly use the same excuse for kidnapping possums from cypress trees "

Julianne Bell PPL VIC Secretary points out: 'Port Phillip Councillors and bureaucrats constantly reiterate that their "management" of possums in the Catani Gardens is legal. They cite the Governor in Council Order of 10 July 2003, which requires them to have a management plan for brushtail possums that includes "non lethal" control measures. While Council may well have issued a management plan back in May 2006 it has, by its own admission, adopted lethal control measures of possums. It has openly stated that possums are trapped, collected and euthanased. (The Mayor denied it at a recent Council meeting but has subsequently written to enquirers admitting to a policy of euthanasia of possums.) Last Friday's incident in which CityWide workers apparently removed a possum from one of the latest traps (possum boxes on cypress trees) is further evidence. We are forced to the conclusion that, under Council directions, it is CityWide workers who are destroying the animals, given that veterinary surgeons in the municipality have vehemently denied that they are party to euthenasing possums under Council orders (or anyone else's orders)"

PPL VIC members have observed that ring-tailed possums are living in the Gardens' cypress trees and so are threatened with being trapped and destroyed. This species is protected without any of the qualifying clauses that relate to brushtailed possums. Thus Council is entirely deficient in its responsibilities to protect wildlife in its parks and gardens. Council may well claim that the Gardens are overpopulated with possums but PPL VIC has countered this by having a respected ecologist/zoologist undertake a possum count and certify that the numbers are sustainable.

It is imperative, therefore, that work on installation of possum exclusion bands and traps on the palms and "possum nesting boxes" on the cypress trees be halted forthwith as it can be considered illegal under the Wildlife Protection Act 1975 and under the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals Act 1986; it is patently inhumane and cruel; and is destructive of a tourist icon and much loved feature of St Kilda. The work involved in the installation of the possum exclusion bands and traps is also disfiguring and mangling the heritage palms trees listed as the State Heritage Register as the most significant in Victoria. A great deal is at stake. Will commercial interests involved in making work for Council's bureaucrats, consultants and contractors in parks and gardens outweigh heritage, community and animal welfare considerations?

Media contact: Julianne Bell, Secretary, Protectors of Public Lands Victoria (PPL VIC) 98184114 or mobile 0408022408 or Jill Quirk (PPL VIC) on 95097429 or 040 09742927