Known as a “turkey drop,” the event, which includes hurling live birds from an airplane, has been held annually for at least 50 years. This year, animal rights activists have questioned whether the event is actually legal, but authorities admit they are powerless to stop it
The tradition of dropping turkeys has existed in Yellville, Arkansas, for more than half a century as part of the annual Turkey Trot. The event features an anonymous pilot, dubbed by locals “The Phantom Pilot,” who drops live flightless birds from a plane about 150 meters (500 feet) above a creek near the town square, with festival-goers below trying to catch them. However, the poor birds often crash onto buildings, cars and the street. In 2016, 12 turkeys were reportedly dropped during the event, and two of them died. This year, there were no reports of bird deaths.
After the 2017 Turkey Trot festival took place in Yellville on October 14, the US Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) made a request to investigate whether any laws or regulations were being broken. The decision to conduct the enquiry was taken after several animal rights activists, in opposition to this cruel tradition, urged local authorities and the public to stop supporting it.
Tommy Lee, the drummer and co-founder of the heavy metal band Mötley Crüe, who is also a well-known animal-welfare activist, sent a letter to Yellville Mayor Shawn Lane calling for an end to the “turkey drop.”
“…I just heard from my friends at PETA about a twisted Ozark ritual that even the most deranged headbanger couldn’t invent: dropping live turkeys from a plane as the ‘entertainment’ at the ‘family-friendly’ Turkey Trot festival. I’m writing to add my voice to the thousands of others asking you to help deep-six this sick stunt,” the musician wrote in his letter, as quoted by PETA.
“Arkansas offers plenty of cool outdoor gatherings that don’t rely on sadism… If those attending the Turkey Trot want blood and guts, they can hit the Sun Valley Cinema afterward and see the newest slasher movie,” he added.
According to WREG-TV, local animal rights activist Rose Hilliard also filed a formal complaint with the sheriff, alleging that the pilot “terrorized” the birds and violated state laws against animal cruelty and animal abandonment.
However, the FAA did not find any violations of the law in the tradition of dropping turkeys from an airplane.
“FAA regulations do not specifically prohibit dropping live animals from aircraft, possibly because the authors of the regulation never anticipated that an explicit prohibition would be necessary,” an FAA spokesman told HuffPost. “This does not mean we endorse the practice.”
Thousands of shocked internet users join petitions against the Arkansas’ turkey-throwing tradition and expressed their anger on Twitter.