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Easter Bunny Hunts and Best Dressed Possum school events

Easter Bunny Hunts and Best Dressed Possum school events

By Lynley Tulloch

With the last of the chocolate wiped from the mouths of overstuffed children we can now proclaim Easter finished. Yet some of the hypocrisies emerging in the name of this celebration are likely to die hard.

Easter is one of the oldest festivals of the Christian church, celebrating the resurrection of Jesus Christ. The tradition of the Easter Bunny dates to at least a 16th century German tale. In this story Oschter Haw, (or Easter Hare), visited sleeping children and rewarded the well-behaved ones with coloured eggs. She lay these eggs in nests the children had made for her.

Nowadays of course little children are not making nests for the Easter Bunny. They may, however, be shooting her instead.

The recent Easter Bunny Hunt at Bainesse, a town near Palmerston North, involved young children. Dubbed the Bainesse Bunny Buster, the goal was for families to join forces and kill as many bunnies as possible as a competition. The event also doubled as a fundraiser for a school bus.

The association of a religious festival with such a killing spree is jarring. Religion is supposed to be about love and peace. Yet, I suppose the Easter Bunny Hunt has history on its side. As Professor Charles Selengut says in his book Sacred Fury: Understanding Religious Violence, “the history and scriptures of the world's religions tell stories of violence and war even as they speak of peace and love”

It seems more than a little troubling that our youth have blood on their hands in the quest for a school bus. Adequate transport to school for rural families should be a basic democratic right.

And then the story goes from downright troubling to ghoulish. During the hunt other ‘pests’ were also killed including possums. Subsequently the possums were entered in a ‘best dressed’ competition. Some of the more creative entries included a beauty spa possum with cucumber on her eyes, lying next to a soldier possum.

These hunts and competitions are common in rural New Zealand. For example, the Easter Bunny Hunt in central Otago is a large affair, attracting hundreds of hunters from around New Zealand. It has a carnival like atmosphere, and involves children with families.

In 2012 Uruti School in Taranaki hit headlines after news of its pig and possum hunt and best dressed possum competition drew disgust from online commentators. The picture of a young girl holding a dead possum in a bridal gown was truly macabre.

Easter bunny hunts and possum dress up events demonstrate an absolute lack of conscience. This is made more disturbing as it involves young children who are still in the process of developing their personal values.

What are we trying to teach our children? That care and compassion for animals is relative? That we can demean and humiliate animals once they are categorized (according to a human centred view) as pests?

Surely in a world that is in desperate need of more compassion we should be modelling a more considered approach to our environment and the animals that live there.

Lest you still need more convincing, let me draw a chilling parallel for you. Ted Bundy, (well known serial killer) would spend the night with his female victims after killing them, putting make up on their faces. In one of the rare honest statements he ever made he said, “Murder is not about lust and it’s not about violence. It’s about possession.”

The Bainesse Bunny Buster is more about our arrogant posture as humans toward animals and the environment. Humans like to think they stand above and outside of nature, possessing it.

It may well be that introduced rabbits and possums are problematic for our farming community and the native bush. However, a more sophisticated and compassionate approach is needed if we are to live with and not against nature.

Lynley Tulloch (BA, MEd) is an independent writer whose expertise scans topics as diverse as the environment, education, social justice and animal rights. Lynley lectured at the University of Waikato for eleven years on environmental education.

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