Leading animal advocacy organization PETA is demanding that the U.S. Air Force Academy free its newly acquired falcon, and let it live out its days flying above the clouds instead of making controlled appearances at sporting events.
In a letter addressed to academy superintendent Lt. Gen. Jay B. Silveria, the group, formally known as the People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals, said the academy's newest baby gyrfalcon deserves a life outside school walls.
"While Air Force pilots get to fly, Academy live-bird mascots are denied that same freedom, which is integral to who they are," PETA Senior Director of Youth Programs Marta Holmberg said in a release.
"Birds aren't sports props, and PETA is calling on the academy to leave wild birds in nature, where they can soar freely and live in peace," Holmberg said.
The academy recently announced on Twitter it had acquired a new female gyrfalcon following the death of Aurora -- its 23-year-old mascot -- last year. The academy at the time said Aurora's death was likely of old age, and not related to injuries she sustained during a prank at the U.S. Military Academy, New York, in 2018. Prior to a football game, two West Point cadets took her and stuffed her into a dog crate. Aurora was found with bloody wings, likely due to aggressive flapping inside the cage, according to a report from the New York Times.
Native to Arctic regions, the falcons range from dark gray to "stunningly white" in color, according to the Audubon Society. Female gyrfalcons are typically stronger, exhibiting larger wingspans and size.
"A stadium filled with screaming fans, flashing lights, and a booming sound system is an entirely unsuitable environment for birds, as they can become disoriented and be seriously injured or even killed," Holmberg said in the letter. Holmberg noted the West Point incident, and said the birds are also at risk for slamming into windows, breaking loose from their handlers, or even being kicked by players.
"It's ironic, to say the least, that the Air Force Academy would keep majestic birds in confinement while training its cadets to fly," she said.
"It's never been clearer that the public is against using animals as props or forcing them to perform -- as evidenced by Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus' closure after 146 years and the restrictions or prohibitions that nearly 700 venues and dozens of communities nationwide have placed on animal exhibits. Recognizing this stance as well as the cruelty inherent in using sentient beings as mascots, many schools have retired their animals and switched to employing costumed humans," Holmberg said.
Meanwhile, the academy is soliciting name ideas for its new baby bird of prey.
In a Twitter post, the school said its cadet wing will vote on a name later this year, but asked users for their suggestions. "What name would you pick?" the post said.
-- Oriana Pawlyk can be reached at email@example.com. Follow her on Twitter at @Oriana0214.