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RALEIGH, NC (AP) — A national animal rights group is headed to court in North Carolina to try to stop a small mountain town’s tradition of lowering a caged opossum on New Year’s Eve.

A state administrative law judge on Tuesday refused to dismiss a legal challenge filed by People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals against the North Carolina Wildlife Resources Commission. The state agency issues a permit for the annual Possum Drop held in Brasstown, located near the state’s western tip.

PETA’s lawyers contend the opossum drop is illegal and cruel.

Despite the name, no opossum is dropped at the event, which attracts thousands to the tiny hamlet. Rather, the captive critter is suspended in a see-through box covered with holiday tinsel and gently lowered to the ground at midnight.

(Copyright 2012 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.)

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