Deathly playgrounds – brutal lessons

School is back in full swing. The news abounds in stories about rural schools and their annual fundraisers – it’s sobering reading. This week the Taranaki Daily News announces ‘Monster pigs, pimped up possums all for a good cause’ at Uruti School. Last week the Bay of Plenty Times published an article promoting Te Ranga School’s annual fundraising event – a possum and pig hunt.

Uruti School: Monster pigs, pimped up possums
Te Ranga School: Fur to fly in fundraising hunt 
Public outrage: Possum pics disgust
Reported overseas: NZ school criticised for dead possum show

The picture that accompanies the Te Ranga School story is of a dead possum tied to a car towbar with a beer bottle in its arms. The image is so disrespectful and distasteful it left me cold. It reminded me of other acts of indignity: American soldiers urinating on their victims, vivisectors tattooing the word ‘crap’ on the forehead of a monkey used in experiments. It’s sickening and not what you would expect to be associated with New Zealand primary schools.


In the past schools have had an event called ‘toss the poss’ a variant on the gumboot-throwing competition. This year students at Te Ranga School can win a prize for guessing the heaviest possum, and the pig hunters can compete in a race (the Killer Hill Pig Run) up a hill with a dead pig on their backs. At Uruti School students are encouraged to dress up dead possums in a grotesque ‘best-dressed possum’ event.

What kind of values are these schools, and the newspapers by association, teaching their students and communities? The Ministry of Education expects schools to foster values of integrity and respect. Their vision is that students will ‘develop values, knowledge and competencies that will enable them to live full and satisfying lives’.

How is tying a dead possum to a towbar, or skinning a possum and putting boxing gloves on it in some macabre boxing pose, respectful? What kind of example are these adults and teachers setting for their young charges?

The whole thing is very disquieting.


SAFE has written twice to the Minister of Education with concerns about these events and their contradictory nature in regards to the values outlined in our national curriculum. Each time the response has been to deflect responsibility back to the individual school’s Board of Trustees.

The Ministry of Education may be turning a blind-eye to the horror but at what cost in the future? These events are surreptitiously teaching young people that animals who are considered pest species can be killed and vilified at random. That violence acts are positive and will be rewarded. Should our young people’s real-life role-models wield knives and guns?


Why is the Ministry of Education afraid to confront these schools and request they chose more compassionate forms of fundraising? Perhaps they are afraid of a backlash from rural communities? Perhaps politics is getting in the way of ethics? If schools were fundraising using pornography I expect they would be shut down in minutes and quite rightly so – so why is violence acceptable? Our country has an alarming track record when it comes to violence and children. Let’s keep the glorification of violence and loutish trophy pictures out of our schools.

Nichola Kriek, SAFE Education officer


15 Comments Add yours

  1. Nadine says:

    And they wonder why NZ has escalating rates of Animal Abuse. Great role models.

    1. Pauline says:

      This is our NZ Culture and getting harder with the times.

    2. nathan jury says:

      wears the harm in kids doing things like this they are country kids doing country things and majority of them grow up to be the back bone of this country if you want to bitch about something bitch about 1080 poison and the cruel way it kills or the economic state of this country leave our kids alone

  2. Erin Wi says:

    I think the poison cruelty should be banned from schools. From Erin Wi.

  3. Sue says:

    I have observed this increasingly disrespectful attitude towards animals in schools (and other areas) for some time now and it sickens me. Our categorisation of some animals as being “pests” is self-centred human arrogance and it’s painful to watch the cruel attitude it encourages. Possums are not “pests” in Australia, they are loved and protected, and they are actually the same creature/species as ours – so this NZ discrimination which promotes cruelty is also extremely illogical. And I wonder what these horrible, insensitive people are like to live with!

    I just want to get that poor little possum off that bumper (in your photo) and give him a loving burial. Who’s with me on that?

    1. Charlotte says:

      Excellent article. How this can even be considered as acceptable at a primary school is beyond comprehension. This is New Zealand at its backwards, hill billy, thick as shit pig hunter best!

  4. debrah steger says:

    this is discusting this country is terrible to possums it makes me sick.

  5. Noelene Sanderson says:

    Starting with dissecting small creatures in school, children, who basically love animals and relate to them, are made to become hard-hearted in order to cope with the repulsion they feel. On it goes – through their childhood, endless examples of the disrespectful, cruel ways in which adults treat animals – our fellow-beings. And we wonder and complain about cruelty and violence in society.Schweitzer, Tolstoy and many other great people have warned of the effects upon societies of considering any life to be worthless.
    The teachers and schools who promote these inhuman actiivities do not have the children’s wellbeing (let alone that of the animals) at heart at all. It should be banned by the weak Ministry of Education.

  6. Danielle Bradley says:

    This should be banned and the school should be given a formal warning. There are so many ways they can funraise like gumboot throwing, baking, sporting events, shooting cans wih BB guns ETC. This is sick and I agree with Sue above, I am over people treating possum’s as pests, its just cruel.

  7. Alison says:

    In a nice fluffy world we ideally wouldn’t kill anything, I would presume all the people who commented above are vegans as to criticise these schools for killing possums and then to eat/wear animals who have been reared commercially would be a little hypocritical. Are humans wearing leather any better than possums wearing clothes?? as we do have a lot of non-animal clothing options – just something to think about. .
    Unfortunately the possum was introduced to NZ and its numbers have multiplied rapidly (unlike Australia), we now have to take responsibility for someone elses mistake and keep the numbers down – if I was a possum I would much rather be killed by a bullet than 1080 poison.

    1. nathan jury says:

      well sead if onley the rest ov new zealand saw how it realy is an not just pased coment from there arm chears an office blocks

    2. Charlotte says:

      You missed the point entirely Alison. I don’t think that the article is saying that we should not control possum numbers. It is querying what the implications of allowing children to witness or inflict violence towards animals might be. Clearly dressing up the dead possums is disrespecting the body of a sentient being. We should be teaching our children to have compassion for living creatures and if they are animals are going to be killed for ecological reasons this must be done humanely,
      humbly and respectfully.

  8. Livs says:

    Well you know what? I happen to go to Te Ranga school and sure it may sound terrible and cruel but think of it like this. We are country kids we have been raised like this its not our faults. And killing the possums is helping our environment because possums are killing the environment like trees and other harmless animals that you should care more about so you should think about what you put on the internet and stop dissing our schools ok!

  9. Lynley Tulloch says:

    It would be worth putting aside the debate between environmentalists who support possum shooting on the basis they are pests, and animal rights activists who uphold the sanctity of all life . While there are certainly worthwhile ethical dilemmas that need exploring and developing in this debate, I think that the other question is the place of our public education system in allowing children to be exposed to, involved in and supportive of killing animals (those considered pests and otherwise). Firstly, the development of empathy in children is one of the most critical areas that schools should be addressing. The development of a child’s natural ability to empathize with others (humans and animals) is dependent upon experiences and interactions that demonstrate the values of: respect for other;consideration of others as subjects , not objects; recognition of others as important beings in their own right. An education system that claims to uphold the universally recognized values of peace and non-violence is contradicting itself if it then supports the glorification and reveling in killing of animals.

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