Raised in captivity and blinder-clad, 35 released pheasants not expected to survive in wild, farmer says

Approximately 35 pheasants were released from Gervais Game Bird Farm during a break-in at the property last week that was apparently perpetrated by individuals claiming to be allied with the Animal Liberation Front.

Also known as ALF, the front is a decentralized, international underground group that engages in illegal “direct actions” (removing animals from laboratories and farms, property damage and other acts of vandalism) in pursuit of animal liberation. Its members have been described by critical government and private agencies as “terrorists.”

Sherren Wargnier, who owns and operates the game bird farm with her husband, said the break-in occurred sometime in the evening between May 19 and May 20. According to Sgt. Jeff Stutrud, spokesman for the Marion County Sheriff’s Office, police initially had no suspects in the case.

However, a posting did appear May 21 on the website of the pro-ALF magazine Bite Back, in which anonymous individuals claimed responsibility for and discussed details of the criminal activity at Gervais Game Bird Farm.

“This farm breeds ‘game birds’ both for slaughter and to be sold to canned hunting operations,” the posting said. “A flight pen located at the edge of the property had its gate pried open, giving dozens of captive ringneck pheasants a chance to fly off into the countryside.”

Those claiming to be responsible seemed to intimate a desire for further mischief.

“Do (sic) to logistical concerns the remaining pens and enclosures on the farm which imprisoned quail and partridge were unable to be breached,” they said.

The posting continued: “Tonight, direct action was able to give a few animals a chance at freedom, but there is no solace in the knowledge that some were left behind.”

Wargnier said last week that she and her husband had already taken steps to deter future criminal activity, including the installation of padlocks, surveillance cameras and other security measures.

“It’s unnerving and unsettling,” she said. “We don’t know when they’re going to attack again.”

According to the anonymous posting, those claiming responsibility released the birds based on the belief that they would survive in the wild.

“Ringneck pheasants are a naturalized species to the Willamette Valley and those bred on farms retain the natural instincts necessary for survival in the wild,” the posting claimed.

But Wargnier said this is not the case.

“Trouble is, they’ve turned them loose,­­ so now the coyotes and the eagles and the hawks are picking them off,” she said. “We’ve already found one body.”

Compounding the fact that the birds were raised in captivity is that each one was also outfitted with blinders that obscure their forward vision. At the farm, Wargnier said, these blinders serve to prevent the birds from fighting with one another and provide a calming influence. In the wild, however, they would do little but make the birds more susceptible to predators.

Wargnier said this is the first time her farm has been a target of such activity. She said these particular birds were brooding stock, which represents a more significant blow to the couple’s business. The value of the pheasants themselves is only about $15 apiece, but the loss of the eggs the birds would have laid between now and October represents several thousand dollars in lost income, she said.

Stutrud encouraged anyone who might have information about the case or who locates any of the lost birds to contact the Marion County Sheriff’s Office.

The Federal Bureau of Investigation, which considers the ALF a domestic terrorist group, has also been in contact with Wargnier and is investigating the matter.

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