(ANIMAL WELFARE/PENGUINS) The NHL and Pittsburgh Zoo & PPG Aquarium are on thin ice after last week’s outdoor Stadium Series game at Heinz Field.

During the Pittsburgh Penguins versus the Philadelphia Flyers pregame show, real live penguins from the Pittsburgh Zoo and PPG Aquarium were brought onto the ice. Footage documents the animals running and flapping their wings in shock as pyrotechnics explode behind them.

Animal rights groups like PETA are condemning the NHL team, claiming their actions caused unnecessary and cruel stress for the wild animals, who naturally reject human contact and are extremely sensitive to environmental changes.

We stand with PETA on this issue. Animals are NOT entertainment props! It’s time to put an end to the antiquated tradition of using live-animal mascots in sports.

Continue reading and view the video clips below for more on the pregame “festivities,” and share your outrage in the comments. — Global Animal

Live penguins at Heinz Field in Pittsburgh before the Pittsburgh-Philadelphia game. Credit Charles Leclaire/USA Today Sports, via Reuters

New York Times, Jack Williams

For one of its signature events, the outdoor Stadium Series game featuring the Pittsburgh Penguins, the N.H.L. figured actual live penguins would be an entertaining addition to the pregame festivities.

Animal rights activists, unsurprisingly, vehemently disagreed.

People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals issued a strongly worded letter to the team on Thursday, criticizing the team’s use of the animals before its 4-2 win over the Philadelphia Flyers at Heinz Field on Saturday. The penguins were brought in from the Pittsburgh Zoo and PPG Aquarium.

At one point, a pyrotechnic explosion appeared to startle the penguins, sending them scrambling.

“It’s inherently stressful for wild animals — who naturally shun contact with humans and are extremely sensitive to environmental changes — to be hauled around, used as props, and exposed to noisy crowds, with or without explosives going off,” Tracy Reiman, the executive vice president of PETA, said in the letter, published in full by The Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. “Hockey fans come to see talented athletes compete, not shy animals terrorized.”

The letter went on to reference the closure of Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus, as well as SeaWorld ending its orca-breeding program, as examples of public support for animal welfare over human entertainment.

“Will you please let us know that you won’t use live animals for promotions in the future?” it concluded.

Shortly after the Penguins received the letter, Tracy Gray, a spokeswoman for the Pittsburgh Zoo, issued a statement saying that animal safety was the zoo’s top priority and that the penguins, who also participated in the zoo’s Penguins on Parade weekend event, were “very comfortable around people and noises.”

“In addition, it was a great enrichment opportunity for our penguins to be introduced to new sounds, sights and smells,” the statement read. In reference to the explosion, it said: “The loud pop from the pyrotechnical display temporarily startled the penguins and their first reaction, similar to a human’s when startled, they flapped their wings. It was less than 10 seconds and the penguins were back to normal and exploring and playing on the ice.”

A spokesman for the Pittsburgh Penguins confirmed the team would not be providing comment and referred to the zoo’s statement. The Stadium Series was an N.H.L. event; the team did not arrange singers, fireworks or other entertainment, the spokesman added.

A spokesman for the league said they also had nothing to add to the zoo’s statement.

In the past, PETA has pushed to end the use of live-animal mascots in sports, a long-held tradition for many professional teams and, especially, colleges. After the death of Louisiana State University’s sixth live-animal mascot, Mike the Tiger, or Mike VI, in 2016, PETA called for the school to use only costumed human mascots going forward. In January, L.S.U. announced its intention to have Mike VII join the incoming freshman class in August — though the tiger will no longer be brought into Tiger Stadium on football game days.

More New York Times: https://www.nytimes.com/2017/03/03/sports/hockey/peta-pittsburgh-penguins-fireworks-nhl.html