A peculiar activity in New Zealand called possum tossing is rightly generating controversy. The game, as the name suggests, involves people holding dead possums by the tail and throwing them as far as they can.
A recent poll shockingly found 60 percent of participants favored the practice. For some, it is seen as recreational. The tossing game was recently encouraged at a school in rural Manawatu.
Does encouraging the practice of possum throwing, teach children that animals exist for human recreation? Possums are killed in New Zealand as pests. But throwing them once they are dead seems to be exploiting something that is entirely defenseless. It appears to be a way of teaching children that controlling, and also degrading, wild animals is okay.
In Western culture, the mental health term called sadistic personality disorder, pertains to people who enjoy inflicting pain. One of the criteria for the disorder is, “is amused by, or takes pleasure in, the psychological or physical suffering of others (including animals).” The particular type of sadism related to animals is zoosadism, and it means the practice of cruelty to animals for pleasure.
The fact that a school encouraged children to participate in possum tossing as a fun activity is both mystifying and shocking. One defense of possum tossing is that it is a cultural practice, and should not be looked down upon in an elitist, judgmental way. However, not all cultural practices are healthy. Unhealthy cultural practices should be discontinued for the damage they cause.
In this case, it seems there is no apparent rational reason to teach children to be cruel to possums. Possum tossing could create a negative perspective towards all animals for children who are taught it is fun. Teaching cruelty to animals to children is the exact opposite of what schools should be teaching. According to a BBC article, an animal welfare group is going to talk to the school.
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