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WELLINGTON – (AFP) – A New Zealand school that staged a morbid fashion show in which children were encouraged to dress possum corpses in colourful costumes has come under fire from animal lovers.
The contest, part of an annual fundraiser for the Uruti School in the North Island, was unacceptable and thoughtless, the New Zealand Royal Society for the Protection of Animals (RSPCA) said.
Children at the school fitted dead possums in a variety of costumes including wedding dresses and bikinis, then arranged them in comedy poses, such as riding a tricycle and painting at an easel.
“It’s not something that can be justified, animals deserve respect whether they’re wild, domestic or pets,” RSPCA spokeswoman Jackie Poles-Smith told AFP Wednesday.
“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 ran an online gallery of the dead marsupials under the headline “pimped-up possums” reporting an overwhelmingly negative reaction in its comments section, including “sick”, “disgusting” and “psycho”.
Uruti School principal Pauline Sutton said she saw nothing wrong with the children dressing up the dead possums, which are regarded as pests in New Zealand.
“Animals aren’t the only species who are dressed up after they die, we do it to humans too,” she told the newspaper.
She said the fundraiser, the centrepiece of which was a pig hunt, had generated more cash than expected.
Possums are protected in their native Australia but a pest in New Zealand, where the population has exploded to about 70 million since they were introduced in the 19th century in an attempt to start a fur trade.
Another North Island school was criticised in 2010 for holding a possum-throwing contest, in which students swung possum carcasses around their heads and hurled them across the playground.