Image Credit: Stringer/Getty ImagesLooks like PETA has stepped into the ring with boxer Mike Tyson: On March 18, People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals sent a letter to prosecutors in New York City requesting that they investigate Tyson’s new pigeon-racing Animal Planet reality show, which will film in Brooklyn. The animal rights organization hopes prosecutors will look out for illegal activity “in connection with pigeon racing…it is likely that extensive wagering will take place on the outcome of these races, as it customary in the industry.”
But there is a bigger motivation behind PETA’s protesting — the organization also claims the reality show, tentatively called Taking on Tyson, might be cruel to its animal subjects. “One wonders whether Mike Tyson — as a self-appointed ambassador of and ‘rookie’ to pigeon racing — realizes that just as losing racehorses end up in the glue factory, these gentle, loyal birds who race their hearts out in order to get home to their life mates often become lost in storms or have their necks wrung for failing to beat their competitors’ time,” PETA President Ingrid E. Newkirk, said in a statement. “Animal Planet needs more programs like Whale Wars and Animal Cops in which people go to bat for animals and fewer programs that showcase cruelty and profiteering at animals’ expense.” (Calls to Tyson’s rep have not yet been returned.)
When Animal Planet first announced that they greenlit the program last week, I didn’t consider legality or cruelty. After all this is Animal Planet, the animal-loving network behind the pit bull rescue show Pit Boss and Michael Vick-pegged special Dog Fighting Exposed, and partners in the national advocacy campaign R.O.A.R. (Reach Out. Act. Respond), an effort the network describes as “taking action and being a voice for animals.” But that said, it’s unlikely these birds have as much fun participating in the races as we do watching them. And one could consider the simple act of putting any sort of living, breathing creature within inches of Tyson as a bit of a risk, no? (Though he did handle that tiger pretty well in The Hangover. Just don’t give that thing cinnamon.)
What do you think, PopWatchers? Do you think Taking on Tyson would be cruel to pigeons? Or do you think it’s much ado about nothing? And are there any programs out there that seem even worse?
UPDATE: Animal Planet has issued the following comment to EW: “Regarding PETA’s latest allegations, I wanted to clarify that for Animal Planet’s Taking on Tyson show, there have never been any plans for wagering on the pigeon races. We have not yet begun filming but, rest assured, all of the pigeons that we will feature in the program are cherished and respected by their owners, including Mr. Tyson. Animal Planet will honor that respect and care in our production and in how these beautiful creatures are treated.”