A Tel Aviv singer and bartender calling herself "Infy Snow" on Facebook sparked an animal-rights firestorm across Israel/the Internet yesterday, when she posted heart-melting photos of a limp little sparrow she found outside an Aroma Espresso Bar branch in Tel Aviv's deep south, apparently unable to walk or fly.
As Snow told it, she went inside the nearby Aroma to ask for a bag to carry the bird in — and was met by a very unsurprised staffer. The employee, according to Snow, told her that Aroma management had been putting out poison so that the sparrows would stop eating the croissants on the shelves. (I reached out to Snow for more details on this exchange, which is pretty key to the story's central allegations, but haven't heard back yet. Update, September 3: More details at the bottom.)
So she ventured out to the sitting area, where Snow said she found dozens more sparrows in varying states of paralysis.
Her post has hit over 15,000 shares on Facebook in a single day, prompting a call for investigation from Environmental Protection Minister Amir Peretz and a big PR scramble the part of Aroma, which in two decades has grown from a beloved Jerusalem coffee shop to a booming international chain.
"As the spokeswoman of Aroma, I can tell you Aroma is doing everything to check what happened to these birds," said Aroma rep Neta Shriki. Employees and management at the Ramat HaChayal branch are being questioned about the incident, she said. (Strangely, in an unrelated news event, an Aroma Tel Aviv cook was just arrested earlier this year for allegedly poisoning a co-worker's salad.)
According to Shriki, Aroma also hired a special company — "an expert in dealing with these specific birds" — to come investigate. After giving the sparrows something that apparently neutralized whatever was in their system, the company released the birds on the beach, said Shriki, where they are now "moving again and flying" like new.
"If you come today, you won't see them," the spokeswoman added. "At least not on the ground. The whole street is suffering from these birds."
Tel Aviv is known for its very unstoppable animal-rights community; animal activists' most recent protest in Tel Aviv, for example, was bigger and louder than the one against chemical weapons in Syria. In response to Aroma's alleged attack on the local sparrow population, graphic artist Neer Rosen created a gorgeous dead-sparrow version of the Aroma logo, and one of Snow's friends declared on her wall: "Infy Snow, the queen of sparrows."
Update, September 3: Snow said the Aroma employee told her, "My employer had dispersed poison for the birds so they wouldn't get inside and bite from the croissants." And when Snow asked him if it was legal to poison the birds like this, he wasn't sure.
"I got the impression he came to realize it's actually sad when he saw how I reacted to it," Snow told me over Facebook chat. "I believe he didn't think about it that way before. He didn't take a close look at the birds until he saw me holding that little paralyzed sparrow."
Aroma has yet to contact the activist, who called for a boycott of the cafe chain in her post — now nearing 16,000 shares.