Pickles the possum is rising star

MOVE over Russell Crowe, Rachel Hunter and Sam Neil - New Zealand has a new celebrity on the rise.Pickles the miraculous possum has become a cause celebre in her home country and has even started to receive fan mail.

MOVE over Russell Crowe, Rachel Hunter and Sam Neil - New Zealand has a new celebrity on the rise.

Pickles the miraculous possum has become a cause celebre in her home country and has even started to receive fan mail.

The plucky bush-tailed possum survived six-weeks locked in a shipping container full of onions before landing at Ipswich port in April and her never-say-die attitude has captured the imagination of animal lovers on both sides of the world.

First it was trading standards officers in Ipswich who raised money for her to be quarantined instead of put down, and now it is school children and the media in New Zealand who can't get enough of Pickles.

The children of Windwhistle Primary School, a small rural school with 27 pupils aged five to 11 in Darfield, Canterbury, were so touched by Pickles' survival they contacted the Yorkshire International Quarantine Centre where she is being held for six months to find out more.

They wrote: “Most of us live on sheep, cattle or deer farms and come a long way to school by bus each day. We live in a very beautiful part of New Zealand with high mountains, rivers and wildlife all around us.

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“We are very interested in Pickles the New Zealand possum after reading about him in our newspaper. We know quite a lot about possums because we have lots of them around us. Too many in fact!

“We think Pickles has to be the luckiest New Zealand possum of all, because over here you see them squashed on the road all the time and we go spotlighting (shooting) them at night so that there don't get to be too many of them.”

Initially it had been thought Pickles was a male possum but now that handlers have gained the animal's trust they have got close enough to see a pouch, and so now they believe he is actually a she.

Possums are considered a pest in New Zealand because they spread rapidly after being introduced from Australia and are now damaging the natural habitat.

New Zealand has been intrigued by England's warm welcome for an animal despised at home and Pickles' story has appeared in national newspapers and on radio.

The children from Windwhistle school sent in pictures of themselves and ones they had drawn of Pickles, as well as a list of questions for Paul Stevenson, who runs the quarantine centre.

Mr Stevenson said: “We think that Pickles is a very lucky possum too. She's getting very spoilt, like a film star does. She's a right little diva.”

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