"Teach the children wrong"

During the past few days I've received numerous emails from people in New Zealand and from around the world about how youngsters are encouraged to kill animals, in this case possums, as fundraising events. You can also see an activity in which youngsters are encouraged to partake called "smashin' vermin' at a website titled "3 Things You Can Do This Conservation Week." The second thing kids are encouraged to do is "kill a rat," and there's a most disturbing image there of a youngster getting ready to punch a rat caught in a spring trap across the lower back. 

I'm writing this brief essay to alert people who do not know what is happening in these horrific, violent, and unconscionable killing contests. 

Dreamstime royalty free stock photos
Source: Dreamstime royalty free stock photos

One essay titled "Horror at children drowning baby possums at Drury school event" begins: "Young possum joeys were taken from their mother's pouch and drowned in a bucket of water during an annual fundraising hunt for a South Auckland school. Hundreds of adult possums were killed during the event raising money for Drury School last weekend, with a witness telling the Herald on Sunday at least one teenaged girl - not a student of the school - was allegedly involved in the drowning of the baby possums." 

We also read, "The Ministry for Primary Industries confirmed it was investigating the incident and the school has vowed it is changing policies for next year's hunt - which is organised by the parent-run organisation Friends of Drury School - after discussions last week with the SPCA."

And, if you have the nerve to watch it, here's a sickening video the Drury School made about killing possums with soundtrack to Deliverance

Killing possums and other animals should not be encouraged at all

What is terribly disturbing is that people in charge of these murderous and inexcusable events are not questioning whether they should happen in the first place. Along these lines, there is a petition called "Make School Possum Hunts Mandatory" that fortunately only has 25 supporters as of this writing. Part of it reads, "Possum hunting events demonstrate a fantastic opportunity for our young citizens to learn about where their food comes from and how to sustain themselves in a respectful and humane manor." 

To counter these utterly brutal, unnecessary, and inhumane killing contests, there also is a petition calling for a ban that as of this writing has more than 7000 signatures. And, a formal complaint has been lodged against the Drury School

New Zealand schools need formal courses in humane education: Roots & Shoots, SAFE, and compassionate conservation to the rescue

Suffice it to say, schools across New Zealand should lodge formal campaigns on how to humanely educate youngsters in ways that do not involve killing any animals for fun and money. One organization with which I work closely and on whose ethics committee I sit, Jane Goodall's international Roots & Shoots program, should be called in to help youngsters learn that it is wrong to kill other animals as part of their education. New Zealand's own SAFE For Animals also could help here, and they have called for an end to these unethical killing sprees. In note 2 below I include a statement from Jasmijn de Boo, CEO of SAFE For Animals, about their view on possum killing and their education programmes.2

Following the principles of compassionate conservation -- first do no harm and the life of every single individual matters -- also could help to stop these horrific events. In our book called The Animals' Agenda: Freedom, Compassion, and Coexistence in the Human Age, Jessica Pierce and I argue that killing animals "in the name of humans" is wrong and that the science of animal welfare needs to be replaced with the science of animal well-being in which it is stressed that the lives of all individuals matter. For more discussion of this topic along with an interview, please see "Animals Need More Freedom and Clearly Let Us Know This is So."

Claiming that the killing of countless possums and other animals is or will be “humane” is a great example of what Dr. Pierce and I call “humane-washing.” We also note that If you hear the word “humane,” you can pretty well bet that something bad is happening to animals and somebody is trying to clean it up and make it look less ugly.

Cruelty can’t stand the spotlight: There should be zero tolerance for violence toward other animals 

Humane education courses across New Zealand could surely help to put a stop to these sanctioned massacres once and for all. Educators should be encouraged to attend a forthcoming meeting on compassionate conservation to be held outside of Sydney, Australia, this coming November. It simply is not okay to train youngsters to kill other animals for fun and for money.

It's unnerving to imagine how this early training might continue to be displayed when these youngsters become adults, and how killing other animals, sanctioned by educators and school systems, will play out and be transmitted to future generations who might adopt these perverse values.1 The short-term and long-term effects of this type of early training are truly frightening. (For more discussion about the relationship between violence toward nonhuman animals and violence toward humans called "the link," please see "Long-Term Effects of Violence Toward Animals by Youngsters.")

Claims that learning to kill possums and other animals as a way to develop respect for them are ludicrous. Surely, there are numerous non-violent and non-killing ways for youngsters and others to develop respect for the nonhuman beings with whom they should coexist, not mercilessly slaughter for fun and and money. 

As the late Gretchen Wyler once said, “Cruelty can’t stand the spotlight,” and it is essential for those who oppose killing possums and other animals to voice their opinions. There should be zero tolerance for such violence, strongly condemned by many and sadly, enthusiastically praised by many others. 

More information about possum hunting and killing

Compassion and respect, following Dr Jane Goodall’s lead

Letter to New Zealand's Minister of education 

Petition to end possum killing (put forth by Lynley Tulloch, Starfish Sanctuary)

Facts about the use of 1080 poison from SAFE New Zealand

1Numerous New Zealanders wants to get rid of all predators by 2050, and teaching youngsters to wantonly kill animals would be a good way to help to attain this perverse goal that some call "purging pests." For a panel discussion of this project called Predator-Free 2050, please see a video titled "From crazy to collaboration." For an update on the killing of the possum joeys please see "'Teach the Children Wrong': Killing Possum Joeys By New Zealand Youngsters Generates Local and International Condemnation."

2Statement from Jasmijn de Boo, CEO of SAFE For Animals, about their view on possum killing and their education programmes

A clear majority of the New Zealand population seem to back the extermination "Predator Free 2050" programme, which vilifies possums, rats and stoats. The scientific evidence for the effectiveness of the 1080 poisoning and trapping programme is not very clear, while these methods are extremely inhumane. Most New Zealanders believe that killing these 'pests' is a 'necessary evil' to save the native birds. SAFE is against this cruel killing and questions the validity of the programme. SAFE is frequently asked ‘What is the alternative to killing possums, rats and stoats, to promote the conservation of indigenous birds?’ This is a difficult question, and answers may not yet be readily available. But SAFE believes the current approach is not working.

If we consider the bigger picture, the most important threat to our natural flora and fauna is not possums but animal agriculture, which is responsible for most deforestation in New Zealand and, therefore, the loss of biodiversity. Not to mention the impact of dairy on our waterways, the substantial amount of greenhouse gas emissions caused by livestock farming and dairy, and inefficient land use. We need a holistic discussion about conservation, not a tunnel-vision dead set on destroying sentient, introduced species, such as possums, rats and stoats.

Nearly everyone believes we should do all we can to preserve native and unique bird species. However, we really need to ask ourselves, ‘At what cost’? And this includes not only direct costs of dropping poison, trapping animals and killing unintended targets. It also includes the implicit knock-on effects on children and adults suggesting it is justified to regard these animals as villains and worthy of no consideration. Many people believe that ‘the best possum is a dead one’. It teaches the opposite of respect for and kindness towards other sentient beings, and breeds a sentiment of disrespect. It can lead to desensitisation and sometimes to other forms of violence towards non-human animals, and in some extreme cases even towards humans. New Zealand has many problems with domestic abuse, depression, suicide, mental health issues, etc. As I am not a human mental health expert, I would not wish to suggest there is an association, but in my opinion, the strong focus on hunting and farming animals for human purposes does not engender respect for living beings, and stamps out any empathy that children naturally have for other sentient and vulnerable beings.

Fortunately, SAFE For Animals has been working on humane education programmes for secondary schools (Animals & Us) for over 10 years. Five in-depth textbooks, linked to the formal school curriculum, have been sent to all New Zealand secondary schools for free, and teacher feedback has been overwhelmingly positive. Topics include:

Battery hen farming in New Zealand – A critical evaluation
Animal rights, human values, social action
Animals on show: A critical analysis of the animal entertainment industry
Animals in science: Ethical arguments and alternatives to animal experiments
Animals in factory farms: Thinking critically about our treatment of animals

These lessons, supported by readings, videos and other reference materials, are designed to develop values of empathy and compassion. This positive education programme is now joined by a new SAFE initiative aimed at children aged 8-14, and a new, cool website is being developed to get them interested in animal issues, and encourage them to take action. SAFE’s youth programme started in 2014, which includes newsletters, and an Animal Activist Handbook that was developed in 2016. The new website, SAFE Animal Squad, will scale up the programme to reach thousands of young Kiwis to become compassionate and caring citizens. Watch this space! -- Jasmijn de Boo, CEO, SAFE For Animals

Marc Bekoff’s latest books are Jasper’s Story: Saving Moon Bears (with Jill Robinson); Ignoring Nature No More: The Case for Compassionate Conservation; Why Dogs Hump and Bees Get Depressed: The Fascinating Science of Animal Intelligence, Emotions, Friendship, and Conservation; Rewilding Our Hearts: Building Pathways of Compassion and Coexistence; The Jane Effect: Celebrating Jane Goodall (edited with Dale Peterson); and The Animals’ Agenda: Freedom, Compassion, and Coexistence in the Human Age (with Jessica Pierce). Canine Confidential: Why Dogs Do What They Do will be published in early 2018. Learn more at marcbekoff.com.

You are reading

Animal Emotions

Happy National Slobber Appreciation Day: Let Dogs Enjoy It

November 16 is a special day for dogs. Let's delve into the science of slobber.

Compassionate Conservation Matures and Comes of Age

Among the major goals of compassionate conservation is killing isn't an option