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article imageOpossum Drop: Animal cruelty for NC New Year's festivities Special

By Megan Hamilton     Jun 19, 2014 in Environment
Brasstown - When most of us celebrate the New Year, opossums don't usually come to mind. However, in North Carolina and other areas in the South, some people think differently than we do.
What is the opossum drop?
In rural Clay County, the local legislature ruled that it's perfectly okay to place a live Virginia opossum in a Plexiglas box and dangle it above a raucous crowd of revelers. The possum is then dropped at midnight and set free, according to the News and Record.
Some people may not think the event, held in Brasstown, is a big thing, but it's a big deal to the possum, says Brittany Peet, counsel for PETA Foundation.
For the event, organizers trap a live possum that's been taken from the wild, she notes. After being hunted by dogs, the possum is put inside of a Plexiglas box and suspended above a stage. The timid animal is barraged by glaring floodlights, exploding fireworks, thumping music, and the screams of rowdy revelers, Peet says.
Despite the fact that all 50 states have provisions that make animal cruelty a felony, the NC Senate rammed through a bill that excludes possums from state wildlife protection from December 26 to January 2, the News and Record reported.
Last year PETA filed a lawsuit in order to ban the event, but a judge dismissed the suit--even though PETA provided wildlife officials with expert opinions from five veterinarians who have a combined experience of more than 125 years of working in wildlife medicine, along with leading wildlife rehabilitators and educators who have cared for 14,000 opossums.
"They made it clear that sensitive, reclusive opossums undoubtedly suffer greatly and likely die after being tortured for this so-called 'tradition.'"
Possums are timid creatures that are often prey for many other animals. As such, they instinctually flee from humans, Peet noted. When they are trapped as they are for the Possum Drop, their stress levels spike and can cause deadly conditions like capture myopathy. The nation's leading experts on opossums agree that this likely kills most of the creatures that are used in the Possum Drop, she added.
The most recent opossum victimized by this needless activity had an obvious injury or illness affecting her left eye, and she showed signs of dermal septic necrosis, which can be fatal if not treated, Peet said. Despite the creature's obvious ailments, it was released by the North Carolina Wildlife Resources without receiving any veterinary treatment.
Opossums are a vital part of the food web and they play an important role in improving the health and cleanliness of the environment in which they live. In the wild, these little marsupials act as low-impact housecleaners and are highly beneficial to both the ecosystems and to humans, Peet notes. They rarely alter their physical environment by digging or burrowing, and instead prefer to reside in abandoned holes or dens. They always leave their neighborhood cleaner than they found it, Peet says. Opossums are scavengers and they forage for decomposing plants and animals--indeed, human garbage, fallen fruit, road kill, and dead livestock and rodents make up much of their diet. This behavior is important because it speeds up decomposition and nutrient cycling while keeping the area sanitary and deterring rodents.
Opossums also scarf up snakes, insects, along with the aforementioned rodents and this is one way that nature keeps these populations in check.
Throughout much of earth's history North and South America were conjoined and marsupials migrated up and down both continents. This continued until the continents separated at the end of the Cretaceous period, according to Science Daily.
North American marsupials became extinct in the early Miocene, about 20 million years ago, Science Daily reports. However, after the isthmus of Panama emerged three million years ago, connecting both continents once again, two marsupials clambered back into North America--the Virginia opossum (Didelphis virginiana) and the southern opossum (Didelphis marsupialis), which can be found as far north as Mexico.
This is the point at which it should become abundantly clear that the Virginia opossum did not evolve to be dangled inside a Plexiglas box for the entertainment of selfish people.
Instead, these creatures evolved to give birth to helpless young that are the size of honeybees. The opossum is the only pouched mammal in the U.S., and as such, the babies crawl into mom's pouch immediately after they are born, and here, they continue to develop, National Geographic reports. When they get a bit older, they often ride on mom's back as she hunts for food. A female may give birth to as many as 20 babies in one litter, but less than half of them survive. Some of these little guys don't even make it as far as the pouch.
Peet has advice for those who seek to stop this cruel form of entertainment:
"At this point, if people want to prevent opossums from being tormented at the Possum Drop, they should tell the organizers of the event that there's nothing festive about slowly killing a timid wild animal and that it's time to retire this tired, cruel, and illegal 'tradition,'" Peet says.
More about possum drop, North carolina, Peta, National Geographic, Science daily
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