“Sick, Violent Talk” Against Possums

by John McNab

Hate speech around possums has risen to new heights – or is it sunk to low depths – on a Queenstown Trading Facebook group.
A person wrote in on the Queenstown Trading Facebook group very recently, along with a photo of a very beautiful possum at the base of a tree requesting advice on a nuisance around the marsupials. 
“I have “two loud, pesky possums” who kept waking me up and eating everything! Any suggestions on what I can do? “
There were many comments – a few helpful ones – nearly all about how to kill possums of course. However, one kind soul said she would take the possums and keep them on her land. But there were comments spitting and snarling vile hate and cruelty, such as:-
TD – “Sneak up. Grab them by the tall and swing them round and round and smash there head on something hard.”
AW – “Only good type of possum in this country is a dead one.”
PS –  “you need 1080, it’s really good a killing things” 
DE – “There’s 2 types of possum in NZ. Possum and squashim”
NR – “Bash it with a big stick or metal bar”
NR – “Its a f— possum it’s a pest that kills all our native animals….dont really care how it’s killed but a stick or bat would be quicker than the governments 1080….”
CP – Shoot the c—t!
In January 2018, schools came in for criticism both from within New Zealand internationally for holding possum killing competitions with youngsters being taught to hate and mock possums. In an article on Stuff,  Dr Lynley Tulloch is an early childhood education tutor deplored the teaching of cruelty. She cited Uruti School in Taranaki which reached international headlines with its display of creative dead possums. 
“These include (but are not limited to) Donald Trump, Van Gogh, a boxer with torso skinned, a bride, a butcher and a bikini babe possum. The dead possums are stiffened with rigor mortis, frozen spectacles of ridicule. These displays are not ‘harmless fun’ as the schools claim they are. They are creepy and disrespectful.”
She concluded her opinion piece saying “Our children are worth so much more. They are the future of our nation. If we want a compassionate and intelligent future society we need to do better.”
Culture of Violence
In late 2017 a US professor said New Zealand children were being brought up to hate and be cruel to wild animals. University of Colorado ecology and biology Professor Marc Bekoff was outraged after a south Auckland school fundraiser led to young possum joeys being drowned alive in a bucket of water.
He spoke out against what he calls the “culture of violence” in New Zealand that says it’s okay to kill pests, and the “inhumanity” of the Department of Conservation’s [DOC] Predator Free New Zealand plan.
“You’re killing healthy animals. It’s killing. And some people have begun to call it murder,” he told Newshub. “What does it mean to be an invasive species? As a biologist, some of these animals have been around for 50 or 100 years and they’re part of an ecosystem.”
Responding to Marc Bekoff’s concern,  NZ Federated Farmers national president Katie Milne defended school possum hunt fundraisers but did say such events should be carried out ethically.
But the latest round of “hate speech” against possums on the Queenstown Trading Facebook site indicated many New Zealanders had been brainwashed into demonising possums and needed anger management said Tony Orman, outdoors book author. Government departments had instilled into New Zealanders a hate mentality about possums. Typical was the Department of Conservation’s 70 million possum population figure which was blatant exaggeration designed to create alarm. In 1994 the 70 million figure was dismissed by a senior Landcare Research scientist as a “back of a cigarette packet calculation”. But the department continued to use the figure publicly for many more years.
Skin Test Error
He said DOC’s anti-possum propaganda had been ramped up by OSPRI’s (Tb-Free NZ) bureaucracy in claiming possums were the main spreaders of Tb. In Marlborough several years ago, a farmer imported cattle into Marlborough’s Wairau Valley from two Tb-infected areas. When outbreaks occurred, OSPRI, blessed by DOC blamed possums and aerially dropped 1080 devastating weka, kea, quail and other bird populations.
“Besides OSPRI uses a skin test with a 25% error rate to detect infected cattle in farm herds. Infected cattle are bound to slip through the screening undetected. So they blame wild animals. The possum is a convenient smokescreen for OSPRI incompetence.”
The herbivore possum was wrongly labelled as a predator of birds and bird eggs too. In addition DOC claims of possums damaging forests were debunked by both Tony Orman and the senior Landcare Research scientist. Possums simply alter the species composition of the forest just as browsing by moas did over millions of years, before their virtual extinction about 1400.
Cruel Comments
Conservation advocate Carol Sawyer said Queenstown’s Trading Facebook group left her bewildered and shocked at the cruel comments.
“Because I was just amazed at the number of cruel comments and incorrect comments about about possums killing birds!!!  Nothing makes me madder than animal cruelty, and by the comments there are some very cruel people out there.”
Then Carol Sawyer added “Is it any wonder New Zealand has the highest rate of family violence in the developed world?” 
Tony Orman said the facebook comments showed there were some “very sick and potentially violent people are in society. But then I guess they’re gullible and victims of the hate whipped up by successive governments.”

© A joey possum on its mothers back

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