A video showing the body of a roadkill possum in a bizarre weightlifting pose has drawn condemnation from the SPCA, which warns that similar behaviour risks lessening New Zealanders' respect and empathy for animals.
The video, which was shared to social media earlier this week before it was deleted, shows a car approaching a possum lying dead on a rural road.
The shocked occupants of the car then zoom in on the animal, revealing that its body has been manipulated in a macabre scene.
The possum's front legs are thrust into the air, gripping a stick with what appears to be two mandarins attached.
The effect is that the possum appears to be bench-pressing a barbell.
Communications and marketing manager for the SPCA Kim Taylor told the Herald that the incident didn't appear to breach the law but warned of the ongoing effects of similar behaviour.
"While the scene is distasteful, there is no evidence of an animal welfare offence. This possum was likely roadkill and has been staged to evoke a response from the public," Taylor said.
"However, if someone came forward with evidence of the animal being killed inhumanely or in breach of the leg-hold trap provisions, then we would could investigate the manner in which the animal died.
"It's important not to underestimate the impact of how the New Zealand public treat animals labelled as 'pests' and what the desensitisation can lead to for our kids and communities and SPCA is concerned that people may lessen their respect and empathy for animals."
The sick stunt is the latest in a long line of photos and videos shared online of dead possums and of the Aussie imports being abused.
Last month a possum was painted over by Auckland Council contractors on a country road, sparking debate on whether the act was disrespectful.
In 2018 a sickening video of a man punching a possum in the face led animal welfare group SAFE to call on New Zealanders to treat all animals with respect.
Safe campaigns manager Marianne Macdonald said at the time that, while possums were an introduced species, they still deserved respect.
"These are sentient creatures - able to feel pain and distress, just like beloved cats and dogs at home," she said.
"They need to be treated with respect, not violence.
"Also, the humour from those witnessing this act demonstrates a toxic attitude towards animals, that is sadly very prevalent in some parts of our society and needs to be widely condemned."