Possum-killing damages New Zealand’s image
By Andrew Knight
(Andrew Knight is Professor of Animal Welfare and Ethics; ‘Founding Director’ of the Winchester Centre for Animal Welfare (UK); and is currently on secondment to animal advocacy organisation SAFE in New Zealand).
It’s not often New Zealand primary school fundraising events are reported by the world’s media. However, Drury School in South Auckland and others have recently achieved exactly this – but for all the wrong reasons.
As reported in The Guardian in London – newborn possums were recently torn from their mothers’ pouches at Drury School, and drowned in a bucket of water. All in the name of fundraising.
Brutal killing witnessed by children
It is hard to conceive a more brutal method of killing wild animals – whether newborns, adults, native or non-native.
School children witnessed the cruelty, and a teenager, who was not a pupil of the school, was responsible for drowning the joeys. The event was filmed and posted online to the soundtrack from Deliverance.
Needless to say, civilised people in New Zealand and around the world were shocked at such egregiously cruel treatment of defenceless newborn animals, and the event attracted international condemnation.
As well as the animal welfare concerns, sociological studies have also established that childhood cruelty toward animals increases the risks of the perpetrators later abusing women, children and other vulnerable people.
With domestic abuse a major social concern in New Zealand today, teaching our children to be egregiously cruel to animals is the last thing we should be doing.
Possum-hunting for school funds
Unfortunately, neither these facts nor basic human decency appear to have been sufficient to stop several other New Zealand schools hosting similar possum-hunting fundraising events recently.
The rationale provided is that possums – which are non-native to New Zealand – compete with native birds for habitat, and food such as insects and berries. However, the possums are simply trying to fulfil their natural urges to survive and reproduce.
Humans the real problem
The main perpetrators of bird loss in New Zealand are not possums but, unfortunately, ourselves.
We’ve already cleared most of our forests for animal farming, and we continue to pollute our environment at an alarming rate. Effluent runoff from dairy farming in particular is destroying our waterways, with all North Island and all Eastern South Island waterways now significantly or severely impacted.
Demonising possums deflects attention from the real causes of environmental destruction, and also risks desensitising children to extreme forms of violence.
NZ’s image overseas is under threat
New Zealand relies for tourism on its idyllic, natural image. Distant from the rest of the more polluted, developed, spoilt and brutalised world, New Zealand’s natural beauty and remoteness is a source of national pride.
However, that image is profoundly threatened by the brutal way some New Zealanders treat our animals, and by the worldwide attention such unusually uncivilised behaviour is receiving.