An annual squirrel hunt in Germantown, a community of fewer than 2,000 residents in upstate New York, has sparked fury with the event leading to a barrage of death threats and an animal rights petition being signed by over 20,000 people.
The "Squirrel Scramble" is being hosted for the seventh year in a row. A poster for the event was posted to the Facebook page of the Germantown Sportsmen's Association advertising the 27 February event with the "1st place cash prize" being for the "heaviest set of legal limit squirrels". The poster also states that "all legal firearms" are allowed.
The hunt is open to "men, women, and youth hunters" with the original focus being on individuals between 12 and 15 years old, according to Hudson Valley 360.
A change.org petition started by Amora Lay wants to "STOP the Cruel Squirrel killing contest," and calls the event a "barbaric, cruel, senseless and environmentally terrorising money grab".
The two phone numbers listed on the poster for pre-registration have received threatening and obscene phone calls, according to News10.
The group has decided to hold the event despite the controversy, writing in another post on Facebook: "Squirrel hunting is something that has been around for a long time. Not one person ... have ever killed anyone, nor turned into a serial killer. It’s ok to disagree but this is something we do. We promote youth hunting and teach them the proper way."
The New York Humane Association has called for an end to the hunt. According to the Albany Times-Union, Humane Association chairman Dr Harold Hovel wrote that “killing in the name of fun and family bonding seems contradictory and lacking in respect for living beings and their place in nature, and squirrels have their place in nature like all wildlife".
In a statement to News10, an association spokesperson wrote: “We feel strongly that our event is a legal, traditional sporting activity and protects the environment from overpopulation. We also feel that this can be a positive experience for those involved.”
Asking for anonymity because of the death threats they have received, a spokesperson for the Germantown Sportsmen Association told the Albany Times-Union: "There are two members with their names out there and they're paying the price and I'm sad for that.”
The spokesperson added: "We're looking for ideas on how to bring people back into the outdoors rather than sitting on the computer and on Facebook. Just because you're out hunting doesn't mean you want to kill something. It opens up the opportunity to see things you ordinarily wouldn't get to see ... In the lower half of the state, squirrels are at an overabundance."
Dr Hovel told Hudson Valley 360: “Whoever kills the most squirrels, whoever kills the biggest weight or the largest squirrel, they get prizes for it. Basically, it’s what they call a fun day out to kill these unassuming, inoffensive creatures. And they can get away with it because New York state allows it to happen.”
Messages to members of the association have said that organisers will use the media, legislation, and protesting to stop the hunt. The association told Hudson Valley 360: “While the Humane Association presents a number of their opinions as facts that are not accurate, many of their supporters are using threats and bullying to express themselves.”
In a press release provided to The Independent, the Germantown Sportsmen Association said that the squirrel event began as an event for their junior members “to experience hunting and the outdoors while participating with a parent or adult. It promoted hunter safety and learning the New York State hunting rules and regulations”.
The statement also said that the funds gathered for registration are used for prizes and refreshments and that the event will go ahead as planned with Covid safety precautions.