Carter Livingston, 19, of Auburn, Calif., was charged this week by the Nevada County District Attorney's office, District Attorney Clifford Newell aid.
Livingston did not immediately respond to a request for comment. But Candice Eley, a spokeswoman for the San Diego Humane Society and Society for the Prevention of Animals, said her organization started investigating the alleged animal abuse after someone brought it to their attention in June.
"Someone who knew the suspect in the video saw the video on Facebook and was very disturbed by it and gave us a call," she said. "They were able to forward the video so that we could view it."
In the 3.5-minute home video, Livingston is shown with a few of his siblings, she said. The group captures an opossum in their backyard and once it is captured, she said, Livingston proceeds to strike the opossum repeatedly with a meat cleaver.
"I believe it's counted that he does it 44 times before the animal eventually dies," she said.
In the background, Eley said you can hear the sound of the siblings shrieking and screaming.
"They seem to be very upset by what's happening," she said. "Mr. Livingston, however, has a very different demeanor and he's sort of narrating and he's going along. … He seems to be proud of what he's doing."
She said officers with her organization visited his home in San Diego County but learned that he had moved upstate to Auburn. At that point, they contacted Nevada County Animal Control.
District Attorney Newell filed the charges after watching the video.
"The degree of cruelty exhibited by the defendant in the video tape is what determined it and made it a felony," he said. "His apparent callous disregard for the life – the torture – of the animal."
Livingston will be arraigned later this month and faces up to three years in prison, a $20,000 fine, or both.
In the past few months, a handful of other videos showing animal cruelty have surfaced online, though in other cases the suspect was not the one to share the video on the Internet.
Last week, Web was abuzz over a video of a Bosnian girl throwing puppies in a river. The video, which showed a girl in a red hooded sweatshirt lifting tiny puppies out of a bucket and tossing them through the air, led to a Facebook group with more than 54,000 critics. Bosnian officials said today that they may have tracked down the girl.
Prior to that, a woman was caught on video in England throwing a cat into a trash can. The woman was identified after the cat's owners posted the security camera footage on Facebook, USA Today reported.
Eley said that between July 2008 and June 2009, her organization responded to 1,520 reports of animal abuse but this recent case with the opossum was unique.
Most cases of animal abuse involve a lack of understanding or ignorance about animal care. Very few are like the Livingston case, she said.
"It's the first time a case has come to us where the suspect willingly was taping the event and then sharing it as well with friends and family," she said.
And she warned that animals of all kinds - be they pets or creatures of the wild - deserve respect and care.
"It's not just puppies and kittens that need to be respected and some people might question whether or not an opossum is an animal that deserves respect or is just a pest," she said. "The bottom line is animal cruelty in California is a felony – that's regardless of the breed or species.