Kiwis divided by school children playing dress-up with dead possums


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The Independent Online

Some schools bake cakes to raise money. Others hold jumble sales. The Uruti School in New Zealand's North Island staged a best-dressed dead possum competition, encouraging pupils to deck out the furry corpses in costumes such as wedding dresses and bikinis.

Animal welfare groups were horrified, but the school principal, Pauline Sutton, brushed off the criticism. "There was an amazing crowd and it was lots of fun," she told the Taranaki Daily News. The fundraiser, which also featured a wild pig hunt, raised NZ$8,000 (£4,100), she added.

A protected species in their native Australia, brush-tailed possums are considered a pest in New Zealand, where they destroy vegetation and prey on native birds including the kiwi. Killing them is a national sport; one television advert a few years ago showed children delightedly counting dead possums while driving along a country road.

For the school competition, one skinned possum was dressed as a boxer, while others were fitted out in baby clothes. The dead creatures were then arranged in amusing poses: riding a tricycle, painting at an easel, relaxing on a mini-beach towel. Ms Sutton wondered what all the fuss was about. After all, she pointed out, "animals aren't the only species who are dressed up after they die. We do it to humans too."

But the Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals condemned the event as tasteless and unacceptable. "Animals deserve respect, whether they're wild, domestic or pets," said a spokeswoman, Jackie Poles-Smith. "We encourage empathy [for] all animals, even when they're dead, and it's a shame that a school is encouraging its children to do this."