RALEIGH- If a national animal rights group gets its way, people in a small mountain town in North Carolina will have to greet the new year without lowering a scrappy marsupial to the ground.


Clay Logan, who owns the Clay’s Corner store in the far western tip of the state, has been lowering an opossum in a transparent box to the ground every New Year’s for 18 years, in a local homage to the famous ball drop in Times Square.


This year, though, People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals has called on the state Wildlife Resources Commission to put a halt to the tradition, saying the activity is both cruel and illegal.


"Ignorance of the law is not a defense, and cruelty to animals is indefensible," PETA Director Delcianna Winders said.


PETA's letter, sent this week, is being reviewed, according to a commission spokesman. The group asserts that Logan lacks the necessary permit to have wild animals, and that the annual event fails to meet the legal standard of "humane treatment" of animals.


"Oh yeah, they love me," Logan said of PETA.


Copyright 2011  The Boston Globe