By Kay Whatley, Editor
Have you ever read an article about the odd laws on the books in US states? One can only imagine what led to their creation. Laws prohibiting elephants from plowing fields* or donkeys from sleeping in bathtubs seem strange; they also sound like they were made for a specific purpose — or to target a specific person.
If such a law or local ordnance was written down, it makes one wonder who the person was who was plowing his field with an elephant, or allowing their donkey in a tub — and the good ol’ boy politicians who wrote a law targeting these people — the whole power of the state against them.
The real story of how a strange law came about, and the people involved on both sides, may be lost to history; except the real story of one new strange law.
In North Carolina, a strange piece of legislation dates back only three years old, having been written into law in 2015. This North Carolina law allows cruelty to opossums for five days each year. This law was written to protect from lawsuits a small group in Western NC that held an annual New Year’s Eve ‘Possum Drop even.
The legislation makes it legal to do pretty much anything to an opossum five days a year, protecting this small group’s New Year’s event by legislating and removing opossum protections state-wide. From the North Carolina General Assembly website:
§ 113-291.13. Application of wildlife laws to opossums.
No State or local statutes, rules, regulations, or ordinances related to the capture, captivity, treatment, or release of wildlife shall apply to the Virginia opossum (Didelphis virginiana) between the dates of December 29 of each year and January 2 of each subsequent year. (2015-73, s. 1.)
Essentially, to stop complaints (or lawsuits) about this small town’s annual opossum drop and related ‘possum capture, holding, and related activities in the days before and after New Year’s Eve, NCGA wrote legislation allowing opossum abuse. A nonprofit had been fighting to stop the Possum Drop and the NC General Assembly’s targeted legislation made the appeal moot.
Removing all legal protections from opossums to protect entertainment for a very small group of revelers, to stop lawsuits against them for perceived animal cruelty, makes it like other strange laws: a gross mis-use of state powers and legislators’ time against those who object (and against the official state marsupial), while serving no purpose for the vast majority of North Carolina residents or the wild opossums across the state.
Why wouldn’t they? The state good ol’ boys wrote a law specifically allowing the ‘Possum Drop. What’s next? A multi-day ‘Possum Purge? Humans are capabile of great cruelty, and the law opened the door — and a five-day window.
Educate Yourself about Opossums
The next time an opossum is foraging around the yard, know that it’s serving a good purpose in nature:
- Opossums eat ticks and small animals that can carry ticks.
- Opossums are almost immune from rabies so chances of a rabid ‘possum are incredibly slim.
- Opossums are “Nocturnal” meaning they come out at night, but that doesn’t mean only when it’s dark. If you see one and it’s light out, check your watch: healthy nocturnal animals can be moving around in the early evening while it still seems like daytime but isn’t.
- Opossums are the only American marsupial — animals that carry/raise their babies in a pouch… like a kangaroo does. (Pretty cool, right?)
- Opossums are North Carolina’s officially recognized “state marsupial” and have been since 2013.
To educate yourself about these incredible, tick-devouring marsupials — visit the website of the Opossum Society of the United States.
From our experience, opossums walk around our yard, coexist with our cats without incident, and live side-by-side with other wildlife while eating ticks and other things that may harm us.
If it makes you feel more comfortable when you see them, call them Tick Eaters instead of opossums and recognize the benefits reaped by having these animals living near humans and cleaning up our surroundings.
Ed. Note: A search of NC law, news, and archived documents did not reveal proof that any such no-elephants-plowing-fields law was written — despite the vast number of internet posts proclaiming it. The book, The Life of P. T. Barnum: Written by Himself, Including His Golden Rules for Money-Making, describes elephants plowing fields in Connecticut as a marketing stunt, and inquiries from farmers nationwide on how to use elephants in agriculture; however, Barnum describes writing letters of discouragement to these farmers. Was one of these inquiring farmers from North Carolina? Records do not seem to show Barnum being barred from using elephants, nor anyone attempting to plow cotton with an elephant in NC and being barred.