Byline: DANIEL RUTH
If you needed further proof of Darwinism in reverse, look no further than Kentucky, where the hunting of sandhill cranes was recently approved by the state Department of Yahoos. This has to be about as challenging an exercise in outdoorsmanship as tracking down a turtle.
There aren't enough other beasts around to kill without picking on the regal, elegant, nonthreatening sandhill crane? What's next? Issuing death warrants for Big Bird?
In my North Tampa neighborhood, sandhill cranes are about as ubiquitous as Pizza Huts. The idea of shooting one of these magnificent creatures - which, if I had my way, would be the state bird - makes as much sense as tracking down golden retrievers.
Florida's birds always have been one of the things I love most about living in this state. On my daily commute across the Howard Frankland Bridge, watching pelicans diving into the water is a guilty pleasure.
And on my morning and evening dog walks, I never cease to stop and admire my own personal aviary of ducks, storks, hawks, egrets and other assorted fowl making their presence all too known.
But the sandhill crane is special. They can grow to about 4 feet in height with a wingspan of 5 feet. They mate for life, and their off-key French-horn honk is, well, it's music to my ears.
And now a bunch of Kentucky goobers want to start shooting them?
I've never been into hunting. The idea of sitting out in the middle of where Moses lost his sandals for hours on end just to plug an unsuspecting animal does not strike me as a bunch of laughs.
It would probably make more sense if hunters had to kill their prey with their bare hands and then eat the carcass raw on the spot, just to even things up.
But for Kentucky to declare open season on sandhill cranes is about as unfair a fight as the 20-minute invasion of Grenada.
In issuing permits to begin offing the cranes, a Kentucky wildlife official described the birds as wary and challenging prey. Oh, really? Perhaps these same folks regard reading a cereal box as wary and challenging literature.
If you've ever been around a sandhill crane, you know these critters are more guileless than Aunt Bee. I have walked outside my front door and discovered a pair of completely docile sandhill cranes standing only feet away without the slightest sense of wariness.
Days ago, I watched two sandhill cranes standing on the 10th tee at the Babe Zaharias Golf Course watching a group of men teeing off as if they were doing color commentary on their swings.
Wary and challenging?!?!? The hapless Elmer Fudd could bag a sandhill crane.
In a recent Times story, Mark Nethery of the dubiously titled League of Kentucky Sportsmen told reporter Susan Green that the cranes make for some tasty table fare. Uh-huh, well by that standard maybe we should fire up the barbie for some Bald Eagle Tenderloin, or Florida Panther Tar-tar, or Manatee Meuniere.
So, simply because a sandhill crane may taste like chicken, that justifies a bullet to the head?
How sporting is it to slaughter a beautiful animal that will practically walk right up to you? This is not exactly a Hemingway-esque Snows of Kilimanjaro moment.
If the macho Kentucky hunters really want to make this a challenging affair, perhaps some enterprising inventor could create a drone shaped like a sandhill crane that can return fire.
Now that would really be sporting.