Over in the US, New Year's Eve countdown balls tend to be large, sparkly. What they tend not to be are arboreal marsupials. Not so for Brasstown, North Carolina. In the "possum capital of the south," possums are the traditional marker lowered into a cheering crowd to symbolise the end of the year.
For the past 20 years, Clay Logan, a former tree specialist for the U.S. Forest Service, current owner of store called Clay's Corner, and eternal enthusiast of lowering possums from heights, has held a "Possum Drop" on the last night of the year. Logan suspends a box containing a possum five meters from a rope thrown over a light pole. The custom-made box he uses has air holes and images of the American flag. Prior to the lowering, there are bluegrass performances and an annual reading of a poem about possums.
The unconventional mountain town event draws thousands of people. It has also drawn the fury of PETA, provoking three lawsuits from the animal rights group.
Logan has been able to orchestrate his event in recent years thanks to a statute that suspends county wildlife laws from December 26 to January 2. PETA has sued the state for creating a "zone of lawlessness" by passing this law. This year, a judge issued an injunction against the law, and Logan has to get a wildlife licence to drop the possum.
He hasn't applied for one, but Logan is adamant that the possum drop will go down even without a live animal. A few years ago, Logan held the drop with a dead possum instead of the traditional live creature after legal threats from PETA, so there may be another corpse lowered this year.
"We may have possum stew or something if we find one dead," Logan told the Charlotte Observer. "No live possums, let's put it like that."
The Los Angeles Times covered Logan's troubles carrying on his annual event, interviewing people from both sides of the possum war:
Jeff Kerr, PETA's general counsel in Washington, said: "We're amazed that something as ill-conceived and cruel as dropping an opossum in a box is still taking place in the 21st century. This is pure terror for a small wild animal that's shy and avoids humans at all cost."
The opossums are subjected to "capture myopathy," Kerr said, a condition he said can kill the animals. Logan's opossums probably die shortly after being released, according to Kerr.
Informed of Kerr's comments, Logan shrugged. "That's his opinion."
Logan names each possum "O.P." It stands for "Old Possum." On his website, he emphasises his insistence that the animals are not harmed:
Another message follows, below links to commemorative Possum Drop t-shirts: "Note: The opossum is not actually "dropped", it is lowered with great care. We treat our little friend with respect, hold him in awe, and do not inflict any injury or traumatize God's creature of the night.
Image via Wikimedia Commons