A pheasant release could be domestic terrorism. And the FBI’s Joint Terrorism Task Force said Friday that they will investigate the Riverside, California crime that led to the loss or death of several pheasants at the Ash Grove Pheasant Farm.
That’s the report from the Press-Enterprise. And it isn’t nearly as goofy as it might seem.
According to PE, very small pheasant farmers Don and Theresa Fitzgerald discovered that their coop had been cut open and that more than a dozen pheasants were missing on the morning of July 22. A pile of feathers suggested that at least one bird quickly became coyote food.
Nine birds were still in the coop — some of them hurt so badly that they had to be euthanized.
The Ash Grove Pheasant Farm attack might seem like the sad and senseless work of vandals.
But a domestic terror group called the Animal Liberation Front (ALF) quickly took credit. Earth First News published their communiqué justifying the attack on the pheasant farm.
But the short version is that ALF admitted to using wire-cutters to set the birds loose. And they urged others to copycat them:
“Wildlife farms are everywhere. Their victims can be immediately released, with no rehoming necessary. This life saving action took no specialized skill, less than twenty-four hours of planning, and fifty dollars. With basic tools and determination, anyone is capable of destroying the barrier that stands between an animal and their freedoms.”
PE said that three birds had returned as of Friday.
But pheasants are tasty. And many of the ornamental species, like a Red Golden Pheasant photographed on Theresa Fitzgerald’s arm, are not equipped to survive in the wild in North America.
My sad guess is that most of the remaining birds that ALF set free are now dead.
Still, you might wonder why the FBI is interested. Pheasants and terrorism aren’t words you often hear in the same sentence.
The Fitzgeralds reported the crime to Riverside police as grand theft.
However, authorities now believe that the couple was targeted because they held a Department of Fish and Wildlife license — and someone used public records to track down their address.
FBI spokeswoman Laura Eimiller told PE that the case will indeed be investigated as another example of domestic terrorism by ALF. The FBI believes that ALF is responsible for hundreds of crimes — including arson and car bombs.
In March 2012, an Oregon pheasant farmer was targeted by an ALF operation that resulted in the loss of some 75 to 100 Ringneck Pheasants valued at around $4,000. Oregon news station KVAL posted a video interview with pheasant breeder Gary Boschler.
If you watch it, you’ll see that Boschler himself called the crime an act of domestic terror. It was meant to frighten him into giving up his farm.
In the case of the Fitzgeralds, the cruel crime may have worked. Theresa Fitzgerald told PE, “I’m not only frightened for my safety. I’m fearful for these birds who are tamed as pets.”
An ALF spokesman said they weren’t terrorists and that they were simply setting the birds free. But no responsible biologist or animal rescue worker would ever throw a captive bird out into the wild in two minutes flat and expect it to survive.
It takes months of training to return animals to places where they belong.
An example would be the years-long rescue saga undertaken by the Wild Parrot Trust to return some smuggled wild African Grey Parrots to Africa.
The attack on Ash Grove Pheasant Farm may not be classic terrorism. But it’s cruel to the birds. And if there’s reason to believe that cruelty could escalate to arson, the FBI is doing the right thing to investigate.