A live pigeon shoot at an Ehrhardt plantation has ruffled the feathers of two animal rights groups.
Showing Animals Respect and Kindness (SHARK) and Last Chance for Animals (LCA) issued a press release and video Monday that the groups contend document "cruel" treatment of animals during a live pigeon shoot Feb. 10 at Broxton Bridge Plantation.
The groups say the video, taken by three remote-controlled drones, shows the cruel treatment of wounded pigeons by young women and men working at Broxton Bridge.
The birds were picked up and dumped into garbage cans, where they were left to die a slow and painful death, the groups allege.
In one instance, the video showed an individual striking another on the back with a bird. The birds can be seen fluttering while being transported from the fields to the trash bins.
“What these kids did to the birds was torture,” SHARK president Steve Hindi said in the release. “It was also illegal, as it violated Title 47, the South Carolina cruelty to animals statute.”
"Gratuitous killing is morally reprehensible, and also violates hunting ethics," Hindi continued via email. "These animals are dumped, not eaten. Many wounded are left to slowly die in the surrounding area."
LCA's Founder and President Chris DeRose echoed that sentiment.
"Shooting pigeons for sport is a barbaric act and it’s teaching young people that the lives of animals don’t matter," DeRose said in a prepared statement sent by email. "They think they can inflict any type of suffering and death on these pigeons and get away with it – not anymore. SHARK is leading the charge and we're glad to support them in this very important work."
It is the first time the LCA has assisted SHARK in its investigative activity.
SHARK investigator Stu Chaifetz said pigeon shoots are illegal, citing the South Carolina Code of Laws that states it is illegal to "abandon" any animal by "deserting, forsaking, or intending to" give up an animal "without securing another owner or without providing the necessities of life."
Chaifetz said an "animal" under the South Carolina animal cruelty laws includes pigeons because "animal" is defined as "a living vertebrate creature except a homo sapien."
"Every time a captured or hand raised pigeon is put into a box and launched into the air so they can be shot at for fun, that's abandonment," he said. "Furthermore, it has been our experience, after documenting dozens of pigeon shoots, that a large percentage of birds escape and fly away. Most of those birds are wounded and may take hours or even days to die. We believe that this absolutely is abandonment under South Carolina law."
But according to the same code cited by Chaifetz in relation to animal cruelty, the law also states that it does not apply to fowl "or activity authorized by Title 50, including an activity authorized by the South Carolina Department of Natural Resources."
Jerry Varn of Broxton Bridge Plantation declined comment on the allegations.
The shoot is an invitation-only event at the privately owned plantation, where a wide variety of hunting and sporting events are held throughout the year. Owned and operated by the G.D. "Jerry" Varn family of Ehrhardt, the Colleton County plantation was built in the late 1700s and has been in the Varn family for nine generations.
The S.C. Department of Natural Resources has gone on record in the past that a pigeon shoot does not violate DNR regulations. The South Carolina Code of Laws' classification of birds, animals and fish includes pigeons in its list of unprotected birds.
In addition to capturing the videos, the animal rights groups say three of the drones were shot down by individuals at the plantation.
"Shooting a drone is absolutely illegal under Federal Aviation Administration regulations and we will make sure Broxton Bridge is held accountable,” Hindi said. "It was also incredibly reckless and illegal of Broxton Bridge to fire a rifle across a public road.”
SHARK says Colleton County sheriff's deputies witnessed a drone being flown over public space and were present as the drone was being shot.
Colleton County Sheriff's Office Public Information Officer Lt. Tyger Benton said deputies did not witness any drone being downed.
SHARK said the incidents have been reported to the sheriff's office and that it will be asking for charges to be filed against Broxton Bridge. SHARK also has filed complaints with the FAA, according to the press release.
"The sheriff's deputies were very professional and cordial," Hindi said via email. "We will be sending the Colleton County Sheriff a lot of video and other documentation of what happened regarding the cruelty, and the shooting of our drones."
"We were told that they will conduct an investigation," Hindi said.
According to a Colleton County Sheriff's Office incident report, sheriff's deputies were called out to the plantation shortly before 11 a.m. Feb. 10 in reference to a harassment complaint and a complaint from SHARK about their property being intentionally damaged.
The report notes Hindi telling officers that individuals were in the wood line shooting at his drones and that the shooters had a "spotter" informing them of when the drones would be in the air.
According to the incident report, officers spoke to Varn, who challenged SHARK's right to be on the roadway.
Varn further advised officers there are an airplane landing strip and emergency helicopter pad on the property. He said that makes the property a private airport and SHARK was in violation of FAA and state aviation laws by flying drones near or over the property, according to the incident report.
The report also notes that "Mr. Varn also advised that he did have people in the woods, but they were only there to shoot stray birds that got away from the shooting area."
The value of the three drones is estimated at $2,400. The incident was documented as a claim of malicious injury to personal property with a value of greater than $2,000 but less than $10,000, according to the incident report.
There have been no charges in the case.
"Investigators confirmed that the UAS (Unmanned Aircraft System) pilot and team members were acting within the confines of all applicable federal, state, and local laws," the sheriff's office said in a press release. "However, responding Deputies were unable to identify any of the persons that fired shots. No law enforcement actually observed any UAS being shot."
"While shooting at any aircraft, manned or unmanned, is a violation of federal law, the Colleton County Sheriff’s Office lacks the jurisdiction to prosecute," the sheriff's office said in a press release.
It is not the first time SHARK has raised concerns about a pigeon shoot at Broxton Bridge Plantation.
In 2012, SHARK joined with PETA (People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals) calling for the shoot to be halted. At that time, they asked that then-Gov. Nikki Haley and both the Colleton and Bamberg sheriff's departments intervene to stop it.
PETA launched an online petition calling for the event to be halted.
One of SHARK's drones was downed in 2012.
Hindi said it is the first time SHARK has come back to the property since the 2012 shoot.
"Technology has advanced," he said. "We can now see much farther. A new drone became available at the later part of 2017, which we have already used to great effect on pigeon shoots in Pennsylvania."