Here's why protests at Minnesota Timberwolves games are tied to an Iowa chicken farm, bird flu

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Protests over the mass destruction of chickens on an Iowa farm have repeatedly disrupted Minnesota Timberwolves post-season games.

The latest interruption of play came during Saturday's Game 4 NBA playoff with the Memphis Grizzles at Minnesota's Target Center. With 10:44 left in the third quarter, a spectator seated in the second row behind the Timberwolves' bench abruptly ran onto the court in the middle of a play. Security tackled her and dragged her off.

Direct Action Everywhere, an animal rights activist organization responsible for two previous fan protests at Timberwolves games, identified the protestor as Sasha Zemmel. She was wearing a "fake ref uniform (that) had 5.3 displayed on the back," according to USA TODAY Sports Network’s Damichael Cole, who said the number was a reference to the 5.3 million chickens killed after a bird flu outbreak at a farm owned by Rembrandt Enterprises.

An animal cruelty activist is taken away in handcuffs after she attempted to protest during the Minnesota Timberwolves and Memphis Grizzlies Game 4 of an NBA basketball first-round playoff series April 23 in Minneapolis.
An animal cruelty activist is taken away in handcuffs after she attempted to protest during the Minnesota Timberwolves and Memphis Grizzlies Game 4 of an NBA basketball first-round playoff series April 23 in Minneapolis.

Why are animal rights protesters at a Minnesota Timberwolves game?

Glen Taylor, longtime majority owner of the Timberwolves, is listed in Iowa secretary of state filings as a director of Rembrandt, based in Buena Vista County. The destruction of the millions of laying hens at the egg-producing facility came on March 17.

More: Bird flu reappears in Iowa after two-week-plus hiatus

What happens to the birds when a bird flu outbreak happens?

When outbreaks occur, state agriculture departments work with the U.S. Department of Agriculture and the producer to ensure the quick destruction of the entire flock and quarantine the surrounding area to prevent the spread of the virus.

The methods used to destroy the flocks, developed by the American Veterinary Medical Association, include smothering the birds with firefighting foam and piping carbon dioxide into barns to suffocate the birds. When there are too many to destroy with those methods, producers use a third veterinary association-approved method, ventilation shutdown.

In that scenario, farmers stop airflow into barns, which raises temperatures to levels at which the animals die. The USDA and the veterinary association recommend that farmers further elevate heat and carbon dioxide levels in barns to speed up the process and limit the animals' suffering.

The association acknowledges its techniques “may not guarantee that the deaths the animals face are painless and distress free.”

More: Iowa wildlife officials assessing bird flu's impact on eagles, hawks, other wild birds

California-based Direct Action Everywhere maintains the method are cruel, in particular ventilation shutdown, which it says Rembrandt used. It has distributed videos it said showed some stunned, traumatized chicken still alive in barns and at a compost site after the procedure.

What happened at the Minnesota vs. Memphis game Saturday?

The organization has said the stunts at the Timberwolves games are part of "ongoing efforts to get Timberwolves owner Glen Taylor to step down and return factory farm bailout money." On Saturday, the organization confirmed that Zemmel was "dressed as #NBA Ref… while attempting to 'eject' #Timberwolves owner Glen Taylor."

"She attempted to whistle to stop play as she approached Taylor at his courtside seat, to issue a 'technical foul and ejection,' along with a 'fine' against Forbes’ richest billionaire in Minnesota," the group said in a news release.

Another protestor seated next to Zemmel also was removed from the game.

What happened during the other two Timberwolves protests?

It was the third protest by the organization at a Timberwolves game this postseason. During the Timberwolves’ play-in game against the Los Angeles Clippers on April 12, an animal rights protester glued her hand to the hardwood along the baseline and sprawled out before security was able to pry her away.

Animal rights activist Zoe Rosenberg is removed from the court by security after briefly stopping game action with a protest in the first half during Game 1 of a first-round NBA basketball playoff series between the Minnesota Timberwolves and the Memphis Grizzlies April 16 in Memphis, Tennessee.
Animal rights activist Zoe Rosenberg is removed from the court by security after briefly stopping game action with a protest in the first half during Game 1 of a first-round NBA basketball playoff series between the Minnesota Timberwolves and the Memphis Grizzlies April 16 in Memphis, Tennessee.

During the Grizzles and Timberwolves series opener on April 16 at Memphis’ FedExForum, a woman chained herself to the back of the basket and threw fliers onto the court. There was a brief delay as security cut the protestor’s chain and carried her out the arena. According to Cole, "She was pumping her firsts while being carried out by security."

Iowa, the nation's leading producer of eggs and seventh-largest turkey producer, has lost the most birds from commercial and backyard flocks in this year's wave of bird flu. at 13.3 million.

USA Today contributed to this article.

This article originally appeared on Des Moines Register: Minnesota Timberwolves games protested over Iowa chicken destruction