Content Warning – Animal Cruelty
On June 11, 2021, an incredibly distressing video was posted on a personal Facebook account by a user referring to themselves, rather vulgarly, as ‘Rough Cxnts Ltd’. The video showed an extremely stressed brushtail possum tangled in the throes of an tightly-held animal control pole. Horrifying shrieks and screams emanated from the possum, who was jerking and clawing at the ground in a frenzied, desperate attempt to escape by any means necessary. The man holding the lead aggressively snapped the pole backwards, chuckling to himself as the possum flung back and exerted a guttural cough. The pole was electrified and shocked the possum throughout the whole video. It was one of the worst instances of possum cruelty I have ever seen. To me, the possum here was a prisoner of war.
After calming down from the initial shock of viewing the video, I became very frustrated and enraged. Who is this person ‘Phil from farm management’? Why and how could they do this? As I scrolled down the video link to look at the comments (a minefield in and of itself), I realised that despite some expected outraged and horrified comments, there was still an unhealthy amount of jestering and joking occurring on the message board. (Un)Fortunately, the video was abruptly taken offline a few hours after I first watched the video and the link is now no longer available.
Though I could barely watch beyond the first five seconds as I was completely overcome by the weight of raw emotion and devastation, I managed to call the New Zealand SPCA Animal Cruelty telephone line and reported the video. Already aware of the video, the operator expressed an investigation was already open about it. Unfortunately, this is not the first case of social media being an avenue for animal abusers to share videos of possum cruelty thinly veiled, and directly referred to, as ‘pest’ control. There are several instances of note, such as the 20181 and 20212 videos shared to TikTok of men, being encouraged by those filming, to punch defenceless possums in the face. How is this allowed? One only has to glance at articles like Leahy’s (2018) piece3, which asked whether this was cruelty or ‘pest’ control (as if you need to ask?), to see the framing of possums as villains in action. Quite clearly the weight of the possum-as-‘pest’ narrative justifies, or at least drastically downplays, instances of cruelty such as these – if it didn’t, much more would have been done in response to prevent the 2021 incident from occurring.
As I have been exploring and researching about this war on ‘pest’ animals in New Zealand4 the more I have critically reflected and theorized about how this narrative of war on ‘pests’ extends far beyond the metaphorical sphere. This discourse causes possums, and other ‘pest’ animals, to be treated as if this is an all-out battle and ethical rules do not apply – and this is not me as a vegan, feminist, animal activist scholar calling it a war – it is referred to as a ‘war’, literally and symbolically, all throughout conservation publications and associated materials in New Zealand5,6. While there is excellent prior research critiquing New Zealand’s war against ‘pests’7, and possums specifically8,9,10,11, along with the Predator Free 205012 movement, there has yet to be anything on a larger scale, which critically delves deeper into the root issues of what is causing the normalisation and celebration of cruelty that I witnessed in the video. This cruelty does not exist in a vacuum.
I honestly did not know how to lead this blog after my initial entry. I realise how important this conversation is and I wanted to introduce it in a digestible way in order to advocate publicly alongside my research. I am at least a year away from completing my thesis, but possums are suffering right now and I cannot stay silent. After seeing this video and having time to reflect on its cruelty, I was compelled to reaffirm just how framed the possum is here in New Zealand.
So – I argue, despite recognizing the legitimate need to care for and uplift native species of flora and fauna, that possums here in New Zealand, such as the one in the video in the beginning, are treated as villainous prisoners of war – ones which do not deserve, under any circumstance, such cruelty. The video’s malignant abuser was like a tyrannical soldier, emblazoned by the cruelty and encouragement of institutionalized combat against ‘pests’. His actions were a public parade, of sorts, to share in the torture of a despised enemy among his comrades (albeit through the relative anonymity of social media). It is important to note that not all New Zealanders buy into this framing – thank goodness. There is very much a community of compassionate and kind people who stand alongside me; they truly give me the energy to push forward. I am certain that we, as a nation, need to practice what we preach about kindness – even to possums.
1 Matthews, J. (2018, December 11). SPCA investigating after video of man punching possum surfaces on social media. Stuff. Retrieved from: https://www.stuff.co.nz/national/109254592/video-of-man-punching-possum-surfaces-on-social-media
2 Moore, Heath. (2021, April 14). Horrific video shows Kiwi man punching possum in face in ‘blatant animal cruelty act’. NZ Herald. Retrieved from
3 Leahy, B. (2018, June 25). Possum punch: Pest control or is this animal cruelty?. NewsTalkZB. https://www.newstalkzb.co.nz/news/national/possum-punch-pest-control-or-is-this-animal-cruelty/
4Steer, J. (2015, August 5). A war on pests and weeds is ‘malicious’ and ‘incompetent’ and will ultimately fail. Stuff. Retrieved from: https://www.stuff.co.nz/science/82113675/a-war-on-pests-and-weeds-is-malicious-and-incompetent-and-will-ultimately-fail
5 Environment Canterbury. (2009). The War on Pests: Dealing to Key Pest Plants and Animals That Threaten Native Species. Environment Canterbury. Retrieved from: https://www.ecan.govt.nz/document/download/?uri=1172438
6 Department of Conservation. (2010). Bay of Islands community declares war on pests. Department of Conservation. Retrieved from: https://www.doc.govt.nz/news/media-releases/2010/bay-of-islands-community-declares-war-on-pests/
7 Morris, M. C. (2020). Predator Free New Zealand and the ‘War’ on Pests: Is it a just War?. Journal of Agricultural and Environmental Ethics, 33(1), 93-110.
8 Dutkiewicz, J. (2015). Important Cows and Possum Pests: New Zealand’s Biodiversity Strategy and (Bio) Political Taxonomies of Introduced Species. Society & Animals, 23(4), 379-399.
9 Potts, A. (2009). Kiwis against possums: A critical analysis of anti-possum rhetoric in Aotearoa New Zealand. Society & Animals, 17(1), 1-20.
10 McCrow-Young, A., Linné, T., & Potts, A. (2015). Framing Possums: War, sport and patriotism in depictions of brushtail possums in New Zealand print media. Animal Studies Journal, 4(2), 29-54.
11 Potts, A. (2013). Kiwis against possums. In A. Potts, P. Armstrong, & D. Brown (Eds.), A New Zealand book of beasts: Animals in our culture, history and everyday life (pp. 201-225). Auckland University Press.
12 Linklater, W., & Steer, J. (2018). Predator Free 2050: A flawed conservation policy displaces higher priorities and better, evidence‐based alternatives. Conservation Letters, 11(6), e12593.