A New Zealand school is under fire from animal lovers after putting on a bizarre fashion show in which children were encouraged to dress dead possums in colourful costumes.
Uruti School in the North Island is defending the event as part of its annual "Pig Hunt Fundraiser."
But New Zealand's Royal Society for the Protection of Animals (RSPCA) says it is unacceptable and thoughtless. Spokeswoman Jackie Poles-Smith tells AFP, "It's not something that can be justified, animals deserve respect whether they're wild, domestic or pets." "We encourage empathy to all animals, even when they're dead, and it's a shame that a school is encouraging its children to do this."
The local Taranaki Daily News says the children at the school dressed dead possums in a variety of costumes including wedding dresses, boxing gloves and bikinis and then posed them doing things like riding a bike and painting at an easel. The paper also posted a photo gallery of some of the entries under the headline "pimped-up possums."
Uruti School principal Pauline Sutton can't understand what all the fuss is about. She says the event was big success, it raised more than $8000, double what they had expected and she says the school has only received positive feedback. She tells the Taranaki Daily News, "There was an amazing crowd and it was lots of fun. The turn out blew us away." "Animals aren't the only species who are dressed up after they die, we do it to humans too." "My chairperson has received lots of phone calls from hunters and the local community all saying how great they thought the day was."
But not everyone thinks so. The newspaper's online photo gallery received more than a hundred responses most saying the event is a sad reflection on the school. One person wrote, "Teaching kids that killing then dressing up the dead bodies of animals as a form of entertainment is one of the sickest things I've seen." The local paper has posted a video online featuring the annual wild pig hunt and the possum dress-up contest.
The newspaper launched an online poll asking whether a best-dressed possum competition was over the top and received more than 400 votes split almost 50/50. 57 per cent said it was inhumane, while 43 per cent said it was harmless fun.
The Telegraph reports, possums, introduced to New Zealand in the 19th century to start a fur trade, now number around 70 million and are considered a pest on the islands, even though they are a protected species in their native Australia.
Another North Island school came under fire two years ago for holding a possum-throwing contest. Students would swing the dead animals around their heads and hurl them across the playground.