YELLVILLE, Ark. — Wild turkeys will be dropped from a plane again this year during a northern Arkansas event that animal rights activists say is cruel to the animals.
Marion County judge Terry Ott said the live birds will be dropped at Yellville’s Turkey Trot festival Friday and Saturday. The turkeys will not be released directly over attendees.
The Arkansas Democrat-Gazette (http://bit.ly/2e1BNsu ) reported the festival has included a turkey drop for more than 50 years.
Mountain View Alderman Dana Woods said the turkeys glide to a landing and are then chased by children and adults. After the birds are caught and displayed as trophies on social media, many of them either become pets or a holiday dinner.
Federal Aviation Administration spokesman Lynn Lunsford said it’s legal to drop objects from airplanes as long as people aren’t hurt and property isn’t damaged. Lunsford said the FAA doesn’t endorse heaving turkeys out of an aircraft for entertainment, even though agency regulations don’t specifically exclude live animals as objects.
Gemma Vaughan, an animal-cruelty caseworker with People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA), said there is no excuse for the turkey drop to continue.
“PETA is offering a reward of up to $5,000 for information leading to the arrest and conviction of any participant for a violation of law, including the destruction of personal property, as a turkey plummets to the ground,” Vaughan said.
Whether wild turkeys can fly has been a central issue of the turkey-drop debate.
Mark Hutchings, a biologist supervisor for the Arkansas Game and Fish Commission, said wild turkeys can indeed fly.
“Wild turkeys are strong fliers,” Hutchings said. “They are really built more for short, rapid flight. Most of the time continuous wing-beats would not continue more than a couple hundred yards, but they tend to glide intermittently and when they do, can sail for a mile or more.”
Yvonne Vizzier Thaxton, a professor of poultry science at the University of Arkansas at Fayetteville, said turkeys can stay at an altitude of less than 100 feet. However, during the flyovers, turkeys are dropped from at least 500 feet.
Woods said the a 100-feet drop would not give the turkeys enough time to orient themselves before flying. But Thaxton said the plane ride alone would be stressful for the turkeys.
An FAA investigator will be at the festival this year to observe.
Information from: Arkansas Democrat-Gazette, http://www.arkansasonline.com