For some, “turkey drop” refers to the Thanksgiving-vacation breakup that commonly occurs for college freshmen in long-distance relationships.
Not in Yellville, Arkansas. There, the phrase refers to a longstanding tradition of dropping live turkeys from a plane 500 feet in the air at the town’s annual “Turkey Trot” fall festival.
The practice is continuing this year, despite opposition from animal rights groups and social media users after an Arkansas Times blog post condemning the drop went viral. A letter-writing campaign resulted in more than 1,000 emails going out to each of the event’s 13 sponsors.
On Friday, six turkeys were chucked from the plane. One died on impact, while five were able to use their wings to glide to the ground, Arkansas Online reports. Spectators caught two of the surviving turkeys. One turkey-catcher told the news outlet his family will eat the bird, while another said he didn’t know what he’d do with the turkey because he hadn’t “thought that far ahead.”
More turkeys were set to be dropped on Saturday. KARK4 News Reporter Mitchell McCoy tweeted video showing a drop on Saturday morning.
Defenders of the drop point out that wild turkeys can fly, so throwing them from the plane won’t kill them. That defense would seem to be weakened by the death of one of the birds at Friday’s festival. It’s also unclear whether the turkeys are wild or domesticated. The moderator of a community Facebook page for the Turkey Trot did not immediately reply to a request for comment from The Huffington Post.
But even though some of the turkeys are able to survive the drop, the experience itself is terrifying, poultry science professor Yvonne Vizzier Thaxton told Arkansas Online.
“Placing turkeys in an environment that is new to them is stressful,” she said. “In the case of an airplane, the noise would also be a stress-producing fear reaction. Dropping one from 500 feet is a horrific act of abuse.”
This story has been updated with news that more turkeys would be dropped Saturday and that the event’s sponsors had received 1,000 emails.