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Yellville Festival Draws Critical Eye From PETA

In Yellville, Arkansas, there's a longstanding tradition--67 years long, to be precise--called the Turkey Trot Festival. This year’s festival just wrapped up last weekend.  In recent years, this rural festival has drawn the ire of a national animal rights group. KSMU’s Shane Franklin has the story.

One tradition among many at the annual Yellville Turkey Trot Festival was, for years, the “Turkey Drop,” when a pilot would fly over the town and drop a live turkey over the festival crowd.

But in recent years, the group People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals, or PETA, has taken notice.

Martin Mersereau works in a division of PETA that investigates potential cruelty toward animals.

He says PETA doesn't appreciate promotional tactics that might hurt animals. Last year, before the festival, PETA offered a $5,000 reward for information leading to the arrest of anyone known to drop a turkey from the air.

“It’s entirely illegal, it’s extremely cruel, and anyone participating will face the consequences. I promise you that.”

PETA offered that same reward in the event that anyone drop turkeys this year;  both this year and last year, the "Turkey Drop" scene was absent.

Mersereau says the "Turkey Drop" has been going on for years, despite being a blatant violation of Arkansas State anti-cruelty and federal aviation laws. He says local officials aren’t enforcing the law.

But Taylor Lynch, the Board President of the Yellville Chamber of Commerce, says the stunt doesn't have anything to do with the official festival.

“I can say that the Chamber board, the Chamber of Commerce, we don’t sanction the Turkey Drop. It’s private citizens that have done that.”

Lynch says that even though the board is aware of the flyovers during the festival, board members have no idea which citizens are doing it. She says that it’s not something that the board discusses. This year, like in years past, she says, organizers were simply trying to put on an enjoyable festival. 

“It was successful. Everyone had a great time, I think, and we got a lot of good feedback.”

Meanwhile, back at PETA, Mersereau credits the absence of the turkey drop scene to the thousands of people who spoke out against the practice, the reward offered, and the aid of the Federal Aviation Administration.

For KSMU News, I’m Shane Franklin.