Skip to main content

Verified by Psychology Today

Killing Animals Is "Weirdly Addictive" Says New Zealander

New Zealand's brutal war on wildlife relies on kids and adults to meet its goals

"Part of that is focusing on the fact that conservation in New Zealand is often about killing stuff (sic), because the biggest threats to our native flora and fauna are invasive predators."

"It’s the gamification of ‘How many rats did you catch? that is so addictive.'"

In December 2016 I read an essay by Jessy Edwards (available online) called "New dogs, old tricks, no predators: inside Kiwibank's 'we're going to the moon' conservation moment." Someone recently sent it to me because they were deeply concerned and disturbed by a comment made by a woman named Kim Waghorn who leads New Zealand's Kiwibank's sponsorship of the country's brutal war on wildlife, the goal of which is to kill all non-native animals by 2050 to ostensibly save their native wildlife. Ms. Edward's piece first arrived in my email inbox when I was busy with some other projects and I forgot about it, until last week, when it arrived in my inbox again because someone was deeply concerned with Ms. Waghorn saying that killing rats was "weirdly addictive." At the time when Ms. Edward's essay was published, Ms. Waghorn was proud to announce that she had trapped and killed seven rats and that her thrill-for-the-kill had begun "when Kiwibank started planning a partnership with the Department of Conservation and The Predator Free New Zealand Trust, which will see the company give about $1.7 million to conservation projects run by the two organisations over the next three years."

The woman who sent me the essay was shocked by this Ms. Waghorn's admission and so was I. I was astounded at how easy it seemed to turn a "squeamish townie" into someone who likes to kill rats and feels so compelled and happy to do so. I also was concerned when the targeted nonhuman animals (animals) were referred to as "stuff" in Ms. Edwards' piece. These animals are sentient and feeling beings, not mere unfeeling objects for us to harm and to kill.

I understand fully that perhaps Ms. Waghorn's admission may have been said in jest or just came out as she described what she had done, but others don't seem to think so. Jessi Morgan, Predator Free New Zealand Trust spokesperson, is quoted as saying, 'It’s the gamification of ‘How many rats did you catch? that is so addictive,' she says. 'Look at Kim [Waghorn] – we gave her a trap and she’s become addicted to it. If you can get a corporate marketing executive into it, you can get anyone.'” She also refers to a group of grannies living on Stewart Island who "have a competition going to see how many rats each has caught in their back gardens." So, for Ms. Morgan, killing other animals is some sort of game. This is offensively insensitive and I'm shocked to read this.

It doesn't take much if any reading between the lines to see that Ms. Morgan and others are thrilled with the addiction some people develop for killing other animals. She notes, "It’s been quite a recent change in our thinking, even in New Zealand, to say if we’re going to win this war against the predators we have to get everyone on board. Part of that is empowering communities to make a difference.” As someone wrote to me recently, "Empowering communities by recruiting individuals to engage in killing other animals for entertainment or as part of a competitive game is downright sickening and sick."

Creating people who are addicted to killing other animals for fun or for the thrill of it and imprinting youngsters to kill them means that those who are against the war on wildlife have a lot of work cut out for them (for more on what's happening in New Zealand, please see "Imprinting Kids for Violence Toward Animals," "Long-Term Effects of Violence Toward Animals by Youngsters," "Youngsters Encouraged to Kill Possum Joeys in New Zealand," "It's a Ghastly Time to Be a Bunny in New Zealand," and links therein). They need to speak out politely and nicely and get much-needed discussions going about the brutal slaughter.

The bandwagon effect: Justifying killing for the greater good because "everyone's doing it"

"This logic [of killing so-called pests] is so entrenched in New Zealander’s psyches that very few dare to question it."

New Zealand legally recognizes animals as sentient beings, but plans on brutally killing hundreds of millions by 2050.

It seems that getting people addicted to killing animals isn't all that difficult and many people are happy with this addiction. Youngsters in New Zealand also are thrown into the mix by participating in school-sanctioned killing contests. They're imprinted on violence toward animals and who knows how this will translate into future behavior, perhaps including violence toward humans (for more discussion of the "link," the relationship between violence toward nonhumans and violence toward humans, please see "The Link Between Violence Toward Nonhuman Animals and Humans")

I've never heard anyone say they're addicted to killing nonhumans, and I would love to know more. I would be deeply concerned if someone I knew said they were addicted to killing animals. However, when one reads inane claims such as everyone in New Zealand hates possums, it's easy to understand how some people might thoughtlessly jump on the killing machine bandwagon. I discuss this phenomenon in an essay called "Does Everybody Really Hate Possums? The Bandwagon Effect" in which New Zealand’s Threatened Species Ambassador, Nicola Toki, claims, "everybody hates possums." Clearly, they don't, including youngsters, as many people are strongly opposed to turning New Zealand into a collection of killing fields (please also see "Violence Toward Animals: 'Can You Please Help My Daughter?'").

The psychology of being addicted to killing nonhuman animals

I looked for essays and studies that focused on the psychology of being addicted to killing nonhuman animals and couldn't find any. Some people like to kill animals for fun, but I've never seen it cashed out as an addiction. New Zealand recognizes nonhumans as sentient beings, yet it's really just lip service because it's made no difference for those who want to kill them all by 2050. Additionally, it's disturbing that many conservation organizations and animal welfare groups haven't taken a strong stand against the killing. Rather, some say that if the slaughter is done humanely and with compassion then it's okay. Of course, there's no way that billions upon billions of sentient beings will be killed compassionately. The sheer number of animals who have been and will be slaughtered doesn't allow for "humane" killing, and the zeal and enthusiasm with which some people kill them makes compassionate killing impossible.

In response to the essay about killing animals as being "weirdly addictive," I received this note from someone who has worked in New Zealand and globally on a wide variety of welfare issues: "I don't know (m)any countries where such grotesque wildlife violations and animal suffering are sanctioned and promoted by Green parties, let alone Green Ministers." They are right on the mark. I'd like to think that the cognitive dissonance with which some people live is deeply uncomfortable, but if killing other animals becomes a habit, or an addiction because "everyone's doing it" or "it's the thing to do," then it's easy to understand how they go out and thoughtlessly do it.

All in all, it's difficult to understand how some people can deny the suffering and deaths of many millions of animals for which they're directly responsible. When I occasionally hear them say something like, "Oh, I know they suffer, but I love to kill them" or "It's for the greater good of the country," it nauseates and frightens me. And, when they say they love other animals and then kill them, I like to say I'm glad they don't love me. I don't mean this in any joking way. The situation -- the killing mentality-- in New Zealand is a very serious one and it's high time that everyone who is against it speaks out clearly and nicely. Gretchen Wyler once said "Cruelty can't stand the spotlight" and she is right on the mark. As like-minded people discover one another and speak out on behalf of other animals, things can change and nonhuman and human animals will benefit from the kindness, compassion, and respect that are widely shared. Therein lies hope for the future. It's time to close down the killing fields once and for all.

I look forward to more discussions of what it means to be addicted to killing other animals. Dr. Lynley Tulloch notes, "This logic is so entrenched in New Zealander’s psyches that very few dare to question it. In fact, suggesting that we look at the issue from another angle is akin to being regarded as a dope-smoking hippy greenie from the Coromandel at best. At worst you become subject to rape and death threats, and clandestine plans on social media pages to have dead possums dumped on your driveway. I’ve had them all."

Nonhuman animals aren't "stuff" to be killed

When people say they're addicted to killing other animals, or it's cashed out as some sort of competitive game, it has to be taken seriously, as does calling these beings "stuff." Words such as this that objectify other animals ignore that they are deeply feeling and sentient beings and help to alienate people from their pains and suffering. Even if one says they're addicted to killing other animals in jest or thoughtlessly as they jump on the bandwagon of killing for the greater good, in this case ridding New Zealand of all non-native animals, it's essential to understand what this means and also to consider the future effects of this state of mind.

Detailed longitudinal studies clearly show that the link between violence toward nonhumans and violence toward humans must be given carefully attention. And, given New Zealand's very high levels of domestic violence, even if one isn't concerned about the nonhumans, humans will surely benefit from paying close attention to claims about being addicted to killing other animals.

Note added June 2: The Drury School will be having a possum hunt from June 28-July 1 with prizes for killing these sentient beings. And here's another essay supporting the kill -- "Can New Zealand really kill every rat, possum and stoat?"

Open access
Source: Open access