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Amusement park squashes cockroach-eating contest

August 16, 2008 | 11:03 am

Madagascar roach Members of an animal rights group are celebrating what they say is a victory over a national amusement park chain that has decided to discontinue a live cockroach-eating competition that was part of its annual Halloween “Fright Fest” festivities.

The Six Flags Magic Mountain amusement park, north of Los Angeles, was one of the facilities that staged a competition where participants--among them teenagers--were encouraged to chow down live Madagascar hissing cockroaches. Winners received Fast Lane passes, which allowed them to go to the head of the line for rides, representatives from the People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals said.

Kristie Phelps, assistant director for PETA’s Animals in Entertainment Campaign, said this week that her group launched into action after receiving numerous complaints, beginning in 2006, from fair-goers who were “repulsed by the fact that Six Flags were gratuitously tormenting these insects.”

The contest was held at Six Flags Magic Mountain, about 30 miles north of downtown Los Angeles, for the past two years. The large cockroaches can grow up to 3 inches in length and make a distinctive hissing sound to ward off predators.

PETA sent a letter and several e-mails to Six Flags condemning the activity and requesting that it be stopped, Phelps said. “Cockroaches have been given a bad rap in our society, but they still don’t deserve to be eaten alive in an unimaginative marketing scheme,” she added.

In addition, Phelps said that encouraging teens and others to eat the insects alive “could desensitize them to suffering in general.” On July 29 Phelps received an e-mail from Sue Carpenter, public relations manager for Six Flags Magic Mountain & Hurricane Harbor, confirming that “Six Flags Magic Mountain, as well as all other Six Flags parks, will not be having the cockroach eating contest.”

“We’re on to other Fright Fest events that do not include any living creatures!” Carpenter wrote in the e-mail.

Sandra Daniels, vice president of communications for Six Flags, said the live cockroach-eating event had been successful at all Six Flags parks. But the decision was made to discontinue the competition at Magic Mountain because the company wanted to “branch out and mix things up…and do something different for Fright Fest.”

Daniels said Halloween was “a very big” and “competitive” business, and Six Flags was “always trying to find ways to keep things fresh.” She said plans for an activity to replace the cockroach-eating event were still being finalized.

-- Ann M. Simmons

Photo: Gina Ferazzi/Los Angeles Times

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