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Animal-Rights Group Takes Aim At Florida Festival Where Possums, Politics Meet

Scott shaking opossum
The Goulding Agency via YouTube

Organizers of a decades-old Northwest Florida possum festival are meeting tonight to discuss options after an animal-rights group complained to the state. The Wausau Possum Fest has long been a favorite campaign stop for politicians.

Governors, congressmen and local candidates have all graced the stage of the nearly 50-year-old Wausau Possum Fest. The tradition is for possum auction winners to grab a live opossum by its tail and shake it. Festival proceeds fund scholarships for nearby students.

But People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals, or PETA, says organizers are breaking state and federal animal-rights laws, and they’ve written to Florida wildlife officers.

“And we want them to investigate that and to prosecute...just basically hold accountable those who engaged in the unlawful activities, which would include the people who exhibited the opossums," says PETA lawyer Martina Bernstein.

Festival organizer Joe Tharpe says his committee is convening to discuss the accusations. He adds the opossums are well fed and are released into the wild at the end of each festival.