The question in the title is a product of a video that has gone viral. It concerns a man punching a possum in New Zealand. He gets out of a car at night and approaches the possum perched on a post on a farm on the South Island of New Zealand. He throws a right hand punch at the animal’s face sending it flying while onlookers laugh (see video below).
The behaviour of this man has divided the nation. On one side there are those who say that its okay to abuse the possum because it is a ‘pest’ in New Zealand. Clearly for these people pests have no value whatsoever and you can do what you like with them. In short you can’t be cruel to a pest which eats the eggs of chicks and spreads bovine tuberculosis.
The animal advocates say that there is no excuse for abusing an animal and they are outraged.
The answer is clear to me. In an absolute sense it has to be animal cruelty to punch a possum notwithstanding it is described as a pest because it must cause pain, distress and suffering.
A possum, pest of not, is still an animal and it is almost certain to be protected under animal welfare laws. Apparently they are poisoned by the authorities to control them but this is also animal cruelty. Okay, it is legitimised animal cruelty and no one gets punished but it is still cruel because it causes pain and suffering. Another form of legalised animal cruelty is cat declawing.
Anyone supporting this behaviour has a very distorted idea of what animal cruelty constitutes. It brings to mind cat abuse in the US by a segment of society who regard feral cats and pests and an invasive species and therefore legitimate targets to be shot at and buried (in case the cat is someone’s pet). They too have a highly incorrect attitude towards what constitutes animal cruelty.
The concept of animal cruelty must be measured in an absolute sense. Either it causes pain and suffering or it does not. The former is always cruel if the animal has the capacity to feel pain and emotions even of the crudest kind which applies to all animals with a brain and nervous system and with a typical physiology.
To return to the possum. The Royal New Zealand Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals say they are investigating. They made an ambiguous statement: “Punching a stunned possum in the face is not pest control”. Yes, fine but do you believe that it is cruel? If seems that you are unsure.
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