By Maria Rocha-Buschel
With a full wildlife feeding ban expected to start this summer in city parks, animal rights activists rallied against the Parks Department’s proposed ban on Tuesday on the steps of City Hall.
Bronx resident Lucia Maria led the rally with her group, Bronx Animal Rights Electors, and said that the mayor had responded to a caller during Brian Lehrer’s “Ask the Mayor” segment on March 22, saying he would more closely examine the opposition to the ban. However, he has since approved of the ban, agreeing with the Parks Department’s argument that feeding birds and squirrels is also feeding the city’s rat population.
“The mayor made it sound as if city parks were over-run by hordes of wildlife feeders who littered parks with all kinds of debris from balls to balloons to bottles to old shoes,” Maria said. “It’s true, parks are littered with these items, but they are not from bird or squirrel feeders. The truth is that less than one percent of park-goers feed birds or squirrels. Of this percentage, most of the people who do feed them are senior citizens, the disabled and families. These are the people the Parks Department and the mayor now want to label as criminals.”
Roxanne Delgado, a member of the Bronx Animal Rights Electors, also argued that the ban disproportionately affects marginalized populations.
“It especially targets people who are homeless because they often spend a lot of time in the parks feeding the squirrels and birds,” she said. “Compassion shouldn’t be a crime. It’s mean-spirited to people who use the parks. That’s what offends me the most.”
Advocate Tim Geoghegan, who works in advertising, said that he wanted to encourage the city to push harder on an education campaign before instituting a full ban.
“If I can create a global advertising campaign for a soda company, I can create an educational series that could run in schools,” he said. “There are people who have PTSD, mental illness and people on the edge of society who have been overlooked and this gives them a way to connect with nature. An educational campaign could give information on what to never feed animals.”
Protesters at the rally fighting against the ban waved signs and stuffed squirrels to emphasize their point, but one advocate took it a step further participating in full pigeon regalia. Tina Piña, a performing artist who goes by the name “Mother Pigeon,” has been an animal rights activist for the last 20 years and has been performing as Mother Pigeon for seven years.
“My performances are part of my activism,” she said.
Piña’s husband, Jason Trachtenburg, also wrote a song for advocates to sing at the rally and performed it with activists just outside the gates of City Hall following the protest. The protest song, sung to a melody played by Trachtenburg on his acoustic guitar, had seven verses, including the lyrics, “Shakes and Shacks/ Makes the trash/ Overflowing trash for rats.”
City Council Member Fernando Cabrera of the Bronx said at the rally that he would be introducing legislation to fight the ban.
“They were here before us,” Cabrera said. “They were New Yorkers before us and it makes no sense. We’re going to lobby all the Council members together because I guarantee that the City Council is animal-friendly, and we’re going to fight this together.”
Technically, wildlife feeding in the park has always been against the rules with the exception of squirrels and birds, but the Parks Department pushed for a full ban in January.
A spokesperson for the department didn’t respond to a request for comment on the rally, but earlier this year issued this statement:
“We think all New Yorkers should be healthy eaters, including our wildlife,” spokesperson Meghan Lalor said. “But food left on the ground is an open invitation for rodents to congregate for a free meal. This amendment will help to clarify the rules, and keep our parks safe and clean.”