The Wise Owl Sees It All

wise owl sees it all

“An owl is the wisest of all birds because the more it sees the less it talks.” —Christie Watson

In a laboratory at Johns Hopkins run by Shreesh Mysore thirty wise and innocent barn owls have not been able to speak for themselves but have been “held captive and tortured” and subsequently killed in “brutal brain experiments”. 

“Because of the Helms Amendment, student experimenters—whose trial and error during invasive procedures on the owls are chalked up to being part of the “learning process”—will operate on the birds without having to adhere to any of the protections guaranteed by the AWA. The experimenters will also insert electrodes into the birds’ heads and restrain them so that they can’t move. The owls will then be bombarded with jarring sounds and images. When their brains have been damaged beyond use, they’ll be killed.”

Although on April 8, 2021, these magnificent birds had PETA and three other advocates to speak for them in a landmark lawsuit against the United States Department of Agriculture. 

“Today, PETA—as a “next friend” to 30 barn owls being used in deadly brain experiments at Johns Hopkins University (JHU)— filed a first-of-its-kind lawsuit against U.S. Department of Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack and Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service Administrator Kevin Shea alleging that the taxpayer-funded tests, conducted in a laboratory at JHU, are unconstitutional and seeking protection from harm for the birds under the federal Animal Welfare Act (AWA). PETA is joined as next friend to the barn owls by Evanna Lynch (the award-winning animal welfare activist and actor who starred in the Harry Potter franchise), Dr. Martin Wasserman (a former secretary of health for Maryland), and Lana Weidgenant (an animal rights and climate justice activist and a JHU senior).”

“Vilsack and Shea are named as defendants because they’re responsible for ensuring the enforcement of the AWA.”

PETA is arguing against a congressionally mandated “death sentence” – The 2002 Helms Amendment to the AWA “which deprived birds, mice, and rats of the protections of the federal Animal Welfare Act (AWA) simply because of their species”.

“These species constitute 99% of all animals used in laboratories” which means millions of animals are subject to cruel and deadly experiments because they are not protected by AWA.

The 2002 Helms Amendment to the AWA was drafted by Senator Jesse Helms who was as despicable a man as the amendment itself. It’s no wonder that he sentenced millions of animals to a cruel and brutal death. 

“Helms reserved his full disgust for gays and lesbians, who he called “weak, morally sick wretches” (1994), accused of engaging in “incredibly offensive and revolting conduct” (1990), and warned his constituents to beware “homosexuals, lesbians, disgusting people marching in the streets, demanding all sorts of things, including the right to marry each other” (1990).” 

“Beyond his hateful words, Helms’ bigotry was shown by his political aims.  He led the opposition to the federal Martin Luther King Jr. holiday, supported the apartheid regime in South Africa, and consistently opposed civil rights legislation.  For nearly two decades, he fought tooth and nail against expanded federal funding for AIDS research, and exploited gays and lesbians as convenient scapegoats in his constant fear-mongering crusade.”

The PETA lawsuit points out that the subsequent death of the owls is unconstitutional because after the brain experiments, which require cutting open their skulls, death is the only outcome left for the owls. The lawsuit goes on to point out that the Constitution “explicitly prohibits congressionally imposed death sentences via the Bill of Attainder Clause”.

“That the goal of the Helms Amendment is an unconstitutional death sentence was reinforced by Helms himself in a sarcastic floor speech in which he urged his fellow senators to “deliver a richly deserved rebuke” to the “so-called ‘animal rights’ crowd” and compared the animals he singled out to “food for reptiles” who merit “extermination.” PETA and the plaintiffs are asking for the Helms Amendment to be abolished and for the federal government to require rigorous inspections and humane treatment of the owls in JHU’s laboratory—and of the tens of millions of other birds, mice, and additional unfairly exempted animals used in laboratories across the country.”

All animals are unique to this earth and have something to contribute. Owls have their own interesting qualities. They vary greatly in size from the Elf Owl, which is 5-6 inches to up to the Great Grey Owl, which is 32 inches. That cute rotating head we know owls for, can rotate 270 degrees. That helps since their eyeballs are immoble in the eye sockets and those eyes that don’t move can sure see – owls have binocular vision better known as depth perception. Owls can rotate their necks 270 degrees which offsets their eyeballs and are immoble in their eye sockets.

In her recent book, “AnimalKind”, Ingrid NewKirk, the founder of PETA, wrote about “Israeli researchers who attached cameras to the heads of barn owls and found that owls are able to distinguish distinct objects from their background and perceive individual objects, such as a mouse running in a windy field or a bird breaking away from its flock, indicative of a high level of brain development.” Newkirk, Ingrid and Gene Stone, AnimalKind, Simon & Schuster, 2020 (22)

Good news for bird watchers. The more than 200 species of owls can be found on almost every continent across the globe. Their soft feathers create a “silent flight” making them expert hunters so should you want to hear them that may not work. They are good parents who care for their young until the babies can fly off and care for themselves.  They even prepare the food for their babies. Like all sentient beings owls have a right to live in peace and be free from capture and torture.

The practice of torturing any animal must stop whether it be for science, sport, fashion, or food.

Author: Sherri Margolin (Dark Matters)

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