Animal rights groups have condemned a ‘protest’ group that glued miniature red “Make America Great Again” caps to a flock of pigeons and released them above Las Vegas ahead of the democratic debate in Nevada. One pigeon among them wore a blonde combover wig, the Donald Trump among his red-topped supporters.
PUTIN, an acronym for Pigeons United To Interfere Now, told local news outlets in Nevada that the latest bird release was an “aerial protest piece” as six Democratic presidential candidates were set to take the debate stage on Wednesday.
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But animal welfare organisations have warned that the animals are likely suffering, and their use as a political “prank” is no laughing matter.
The group claimed to have used eyelash extension glue to attach the hats to the birds for its latest stunt.
The demonstration follows sightings of pigeons wearing tiny red cowboy hats in the area in December, one of which died, likely from inhaling glue fumes. There have also been sightings in Las Vegas of pigeons wearing sombreros.
“The hats usually stay on for a day or two, depending on the bird’s movements”, group founder “Coo Hand Luke” told the Las Vegas Review-Journal. “We can also remove them ourselves as they fly back to the coop. They could be gone for a day, two days or a week, but they always come back.”
Deone Roberts with the American Racing Pigeon Union tells The Independent that not only does the glue pose a health threat to the animals, but the hats themselves obstruct their view, making them susceptible to hitting windows and unable “to escape the predators with an unnatural addition to the body”.
In December, Las Vegas-based pigeon rescue group Lofty Hopes was able to rescue two of the birds, leaving bits of feather attached to the glue after volunteers pulled it from hard plastic. The group has trapped and is rehabilitating several of the pigeons wearing MAGA hats.
Pigeons have a 340-degree peripheral vision and react quickly and viscerally to movement. The hats, according to the Audubon Institute, reduce their vision by half.
In a statement, Lofty Hopes said PUTIN’s statement is one of “animal cruelty” and shamed the group’s use of animals as a “disgraceful misuse of their trust in us”.
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Ms Roberts said: “People perhaps do not realize the harm to any animal or bird with an action such as that. … It appears deliberate and definitely harmful and indicates a lack of respect for life.”
“Coo Hand Luke” said that the demonstration followed “exhaustive research, logistical hurdles and pigeon care taking” to demonstrate serve as a sign of loyal support for the president.
The group was reportedly inspired by Operation Tarcana, a Cold War-era CIA mission that relied on surveillance cameras fitted on pigeons to spy on the Soviets.
PUTIN claims that it “values its cause over celebrity” and that the aim of the demonstration “is to draw attention to the art and the message, not those behind it”.
Asked by local outlets whether the stunt was more prank than art, the group said it’s mostly satire.