Rapid City Journal (SD) Covers UPC’s Protest Against Cruel Chicken Games
(UPC news release: http://www.upc-online.org/nr/32806reptilegardens.html)
“Group wants Reptile Gardens to abandon chicken games” and “Group cries foul over treatment of chickens” by Scott Aust, April 9, 11 starts:
RAPID CITY – “A Virginia-based chicken-rights group has asked Reptile Gardens to eliminate chicken basketball and tic-tac-toe games from the tourist attraction, saying they are activities that the group views as demeaning and cruel to the birds.”
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WHAT CAN I DO?
You may send a polite letter to the editor of the Rapid City Journal thanking them for their coverage and expressing your support for eliminating chicken basketball and tic tac toe slot machine games at Reptile Gardens. Email: Letters@rapidcityjournal.com
Urge Reptile Gardens to eliminate chicken basketball and tic tac toe slot machine games. Email:www.reptilegardens.com/contactus.html
NEW: Group wants Reptile Gardens to abandon chicken games
By Scott Aust, Journal Staff Writer
RAPID CITY -- A Virginia-based chicken-rights group has asked Reptile Gardens to eliminate chicken basketball and tic-tac-toe games from the tourist attraction, saying they are activities the group views as demeaning and cruel to the birds.
Karen Davis, president of United Poultry Concerns, a national nonprofit organization dedicated to the compassionate and respectful treatment of domestic fowl, said her organization received a complaint in October from a woman whose mother had visited Reptile Gardens and was disturbed seeing the chickens play games for food.
Davis said the woman's e-mail indicated there were four chickens each locked in small glass boxes being "forced" to do tricks for food without being provided water. The e-mail also said the chickens appeared to be starving and didn't get to eat unless they made a certain number of baskets.
"The chickens were trying frantically and pathetically to successfully complete the games," Davis said, reading from the e-mail.
"Forcing chickens to play basketball is not a humane way to treat them, no matter what kind of rationalization is attempted to be made," Davis said. "Chickens are foraging animals. They belong on the ground, scratching the earth, taking sun baths and dust baths, forming and reforming small flocks and running around."
Joe Maierhauser, president and chief executive of Reptile Gardens, said UPC is "totally misguided" about how the chickens are treated and exhibited.
To activate the games, tourists deposit quarters. Chickens peck the tic-tac-toe board or push a ball through a hoop until food reward is released.
"They're just doing what chickens do. They peck," he said. "It's just a natural behavior, and they're rewarded with food for doing it."
In no way are the chickens being mistreated or forced to perform, Maierhauser said. In fact, it's apparent that the chickens enjoy the activity.
"You can't force them to do anything," he said. "When the winter's over, they seem anxious to get back in there and do what they do, even though all winter they're fed their full rations and they're fine. But they actually seem anxious to get back in there."
Davis founded UPC in 1990 to address treatment of chickens and other domesticated fowl in food production, science, education, entertainment and human-companionship situations. She has operated a sanctuary for rescued chickens since 1987.
She says chickens like to perch, congregate in small groups and be active all day long, but they don't like to be locked up.
"They like to go to roost at night; they like to jump on their perches. But by 5:30 in the morning in the summer, and by 6:30 or even earlier in the winter, they're screaming and yelling to be let out of their houses. They want to be out and about," she said.
Locking chickens in a cage and making them perform for a few grains is not humane, she said.
"No animal deserves to be presented to the public or treated like a slot machine gadget," Davis said. "Birds don't want to be in cages. They don't choose to be in cages. We force them into cages, and we force them to do things that make no sense to them for a kind of entertainment that really is just inane."
Davis said she is opposed to using chickens for food because of ethical and health reasons and that she also believes no animals should be on exhibit.
"We have cameras now that can enable us to watch animals in there natural homes doing the things that make them the animals that they are," she said. "We should be using the technology we have to stay as far clear of animals, as far as their doing what they choose to do in their own natural settings, and yet be able to appreciate them."
Davis has never visited Reptile Gardens, but she doesn't rule out the possibility. She hopes the games are stopped and that, if Reptile Gardens must exhibit chickens, it be in some kind of a meaningful way that shows the relationship between reptiles and birds.
"We want to see animals allowed to be who they are. We don't want them treated like gimmicks or objects, put in situations that are really derisive and do not create a respectful attitude towards them," Davis said. "Putting them in a slot machine and forcing him or her to do weird little antics for amusement, we feel this is degrading to both people and animals."
Maierhauser said the majority of the 300,000 visitors to the park each year enjoy watching the chickens. The animals are not mistreated or demeaned, he said.
The chickens work two hours each day. When not performing, they are kept in their own enclosure in another location. He said they are well fed and provided plenty of water.
"If you don't feed them, they die. If you don't water them, they die," he said. "They are not starved. If you starve them, they don't work. They need to be well fed. They get so well fed, they only work a couple of hours and they're full, and another chicken comes in."
The chickens are cared for better than many house pets, Maierhauser said.
"They're under veterinarian care. The girls that take care of them love them," he said. "Last summer, they took them for walks."
Maierhauser said the UPC really wasn't interested in hearing Reptile Gardens' side of the story.
"They have made their minds up," he said. "The chickens are not mistreated in any way. It just seems ridiculous to me to pick on six little chickens that are so well taken care of, when there are so many other more significant animal issues going on."
Contact Scott Aust at 394-8415 or firstname.lastname@example.org