Saving wildlife without drowning possums

For most of their first year, young possums, called joeys, are highly dependent on their mothers. The blind, furless, 1.5 cm long newborns crawl into their mother’s pouches, where they attach to a nipple and grow for about four to five months in warmth and relative safety. During this period, these tiny mammals are completely defenceless.

Nevertheless, on the 25th of June, at an annual fundraising hunt for Drury School in South Auckland organised by a parent’s association, these newborns were torn from their mothers’ pouches, and drowned in a bucket of water. It is hard to conceive a more brutal method of killing wild mammals. Children witnessed the event, and a teenager, who was not a pupil of the school, was responsible for checking the possums’ pouches and drowning the joeys. The event was filmed and posted online to the soundtrack from Deliverance.

Possums are introduced animals within New Zealand, and have been demonised as contributors to the loss of native birds, with whom they compete for habitat, and for food such as insects and berries. However, such brutal treatment - and at a school, no less - is extremely disturbing. It is important to remember that possums are simply trying to fulfil their natural urges to survive and reproduce.

The main perpetrators of biodiversity loss in New Zealand are not possums but, unfortunately, ourselves. We continue to pollute our natural environment at an alarming rate. Demonising possums deflects attention from the real causes of environmental destruction, and risks desensitising children to extreme forms of violence.

Sociological studies have clearly established that earlier animal abuse may increase the risk of later abuse of women, children and other vulnerable people. With domestic abuse being 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.

There are so many better ways to help both animals and the environment. Earlier today, young SAFE supporters in Christchurch participated in a beach clean-up, ridding the beach of rubbish, such as plastic rings that can entrap seagulls and other birds. This highly social event was enjoyed by all who participated, and left a pristine beach for the whole community to enjoy.

Take Action

  • Sign the petition to end school possum hunts.
  • Write to your local newspaper and call your local talkback radio station, condemning cruel possum hunts.
  • Join SAFE’s volunteer network, and participate in action to help animals, the environment and your local community.
  • SAFE Animal Squad Children between 8-14 who care about animals can join our Animal Squad and learn how to care for and protect animals.
  • Learn more Teachers interested in exploring and encouraging critical thinking about our relationship with animals can learn more about SAFE’s Animals & Us education programme here.
  • Read more Scapegoating Possums: Science, Psychology, and Words of War. New Zealand's "war on wildlife" based on iffy science and misleading hype - Marc Bekoff Ph.D.

11 July 2017