Use of live possum in New Year's celebration unclear

Jan. 02, 2013 @ 05:17 PM

RALEIGH, N.C. — The organizer of a New Year's Eve Possum Drop in western North Carolina kept folks guessing on whether he used a live specimen to ring in 2013.

Country store owner Clay Logan lowered an opaque padlocked box wrapped with photos of opossums at the stroke of midnight, not revealing what was inside.

"To be, or not to be?" Logan said, quoting the famous line from Shakespeare's Hamlet. "That is the question."

People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals filed suit earlier this year against the state Wildlife Resources Commission, which had issued Logan a permit to trap a wild opossum.

N.C. Administrative Law Judge Fred Morrison ruled in November that it is improper for the state to issue such a permit. The commission has appealed in Wake County Superior Court for a review of the case, but no hearing has yet been scheduled.

Logan's annual celebration draws thousands to tiny Brasstown, where in past years a live opossum was hoisted high in a see-through box adorned with tinsel before being gently lowered at midnight. The animals were released back into the woods after the event.

A lawyer for PETA suggested in court that it is cruel and traumatic to expose a typically shy, nocturnal marsupial to big crowds, loud music and fireworks.

Supporters of the tradition say the captured opossums are well feed and cared for, far better off than the flattened carcasses routinely spotted on local roadsides. It is also legal under state law to hunt opossums using spotlights and dogs.

Surrounded by mountains, Brasstown is located in the far western tip of North Carolina, a short drive from the state's lines with Tennessee and Georgia.

Logan suggested last week he might use road kill or a stuffed animal Tuesday night, but he also hinted he might defy the court's order.

Possessing or transporting a live possum is a misdemeanor under state law, though it is unclear if Logan would face any real legal jeopardy since the same state agency who would cite him is appealing the court ruling. Still, Logan has recently been soliciting online donations for a legal defense fund.

In an interview with WLOS-TV (http://bit.ly/TEuKTO ) shortly after midnight, Logan said what is important is that the holiday revealers had a good time, especially the children.

"You gotta have faith," Logan said. "It don't really matter what's in the box. Nobody knows what's in the box. And they had just as much fun, didn't they?"