VERIFY: Are live turkeys being tossed from planes?

Are live Turkeys tossed annually out of planes during an annual turkey trot in a town in Arkansas?

QUESTION:

Are live Turkeys tossed annually out of planes during an annual turkey trot in a town in Arkansas?

ANSWER:

Yes. As "Fiddle on the Roof"'s  Tevye would say "Tradition! Tradition!" 

SOURCES:

Lauren Jarvis- Public Services Manager at the Arkansas State Archives

The Encyclopedia of Arkansas History & Culture 

Arkansas Animal Cruelty Laws

Flightaware.com

Yellville Chamber of Commerce Facebook Post

PROCESS:

By far--"are people throwing live turkeys out of airplanes"--is the most bizarre Verify question our team has ever received. 

Crazier still, this one happens to be true.

A verify viewer sent us this petition claiming aerial turkey drops happen every October in Yellville, Arkansas during the annual Turkey Trot. The petition says the "Phantom Pilot," as the locals fondly call him, drops a turkey from the cockpit in front of a crowd of festival-goers. 

We began by researching local Arkansas newspapers and YouTube videos and discovered a plethora of evidence. A small plane does--in fact-- fly over the Yellville Turkey Trot hurling birds.

Our Verify researchers tried contacting the Yellville Chamber of Commerce who organizes the festival. We couldn't reach them by phone or email, but found this Facebook post dismissing any rumors that they collaborate with the Phantom Pilot or have the ability to stop him.

So just how did this tradition start? We asked Lauren Jarvis, Public Services Manager for the Arkansas State Archives.  

“The turkey trot festival started in 1946," Jarvis said. "During the initial festival they were dropping turkeys from the courthouse roof, until airplanes started doing it in 1948.”

 

The trot was intended to publicize the need for wild turkey conservation. In the mid-1940s the wild turkey population fell to 7,000, Jarvis said. She couldn't provide Verify with what a healthy wild turkey population looked like during this time period.

 

Why during a conservancy campaign would you throw turkeys from airplanes and courthouse roofs?

 

"The thought was that they could glide to safety, that's the argument that's always been used," Jarvis said. "The idea seemed to be that once released the turkey could run around and if people caught it they could keep it for Thanksgiving dinner."

 

© 2017 WUSA-TV


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