Mock Turtle Scoop

The Spike clears up tale of the tortoises and the harebrained

First off, The Spike wants to thank all of you who were truly moved by the plight of the five baby desert tortoises in the path of the new Arizona Cardinals stadium, as reported last week in "Super Bowl V," a story by freelance contributor Rubén Oman.

The story, which pictured the tiny turtle babies on the cover, revealed the efforts by the environmental group Sonoran Desert Conservancy and its maniacal but charismatic leader, Ogden Farrell, to stop construction of the stadium through court action, thus jeopardizing the City of Glendale's hopes to bring the Super Bowl (and super bucks) to that city in 2008.

Even more dastardly, Cardinals owner Bill Bidwill -- who could not be reached for comment for that story and, in fact, still hasn't bothered to call us about it -- tried to hide the fact that an endangered species was found on the property and that then he uprooted the babies under cover of darkness.

Within hours of the newspaper hitting the streets last Wednesday, calls and e-mails to Farrell, the conservancy, New Times, and even The Spike, started rolling in.

"I read the article today in New Times about the tortoises, and I wanted to let you know that I will do anything to help. Whether it be searching for them or a petition, anything," a woman who works for Bank of America told Farrell's voice mail.

Besides those genuinely sincere calls to Farrell, The Spike hears that local environmental groups like the Sierra Club received calls from people wanting to help out. One suggested that it might be in order to conduct an official tortoise survey out there in Glendale.

The City of Glendale even called the state Department of Game and Fish to find out just what the rules are regarding the species.

It does The Spike good to see that people in this Valley really do care about helpless if homely creatures such as the desert tortoise. Your hearts are absolutely in the right place.

Even if, and The Spike is sorry to have to break this to you, your brains are not.

People: This was all a joke, our way of using satire and parody to foster a little bit of community discussion on issues of major import here in the Valley. Like why are we spending so much of the taxpayers' hard-earned cash on the worst football team in America? The timing: Hey, it's Super Bowl season.

The Spike admits that the story does read, at least at first, like it could be true. Authors Tony Ortega and Paul Rubin (their real names) wrote a brilliant spoof. And frankly, no one who responded to the story put it past the Bidwills to scoop up some tortoises, haul them off to another site (or worse!) and then try to cover it up.

But, c'mon, folks, surely no one believed the assertion that the Cardinals' losing season is being blamed on the team's angst over the plight of the poor little baby turtles. Or that running back Thomas Jones, who told everyone he'd injured his hand reaching for a phone (uh-huh), actually hurt it when he slammed his fist into a locker, so upset was he over the Bidwills' treatment of the tortoises.

Ah, but they did. Even those who should have known better.

"I am a herpetologist (reptiles and amphibians) with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service here in Phoenix," writes Jim Rorabaugh, in a letter to New Times. "I am a co-author of a chapter on conservation of the Sonoran Desert tortoise in The Sonoran Desert Tortoise, a book published in 2002.

"I was amazed at the Super Bowl V' story. Was all of that made up? The stadium site is an ag field that is completely unsuitable as desert tortoise habitat (if there are tortoises there, someone put them there, and they will not survive for long). The article also makes reference to an Arizona Lesser Salamander' and the Southwest Rare Reptile Preservation Act.' I assure you, neither of those exist in any reality of which I am aware.

"In regard to the salamander,' the article goes on to say that it was reclassified as a reptile, and that the Corps of Engineers reconfigured the flow of the San Pedro River to accommodate the animal. That is all total fiction. Does no one check the validity of these articles?"

Thanks, Jim, for pointing that out.

The Spike also liked this rant to Ogden Farrell from a 63-year-old Phoenix man who introduces himself as a native Arizonan. Unfortunately, The Spike only has room for selected excerpts:

"First, let me say that I don't care one whit about Bill Bidwill or his ownership of the Cardinals. We all would have been better off if he had never come to town.

"Having said that, however, the underpinning of the New Times story is the stadium itself. All residents of Maricopa County have suffered through the saga of the stadium -- from the Tempe site-location mess to John Long's efforts to prevent the construction of the stadium. Millions of tax dollars were wasted when the TSA and the Cardinals were forced, correctly, I might add, to relocate the stadium from its initial river-bottom location. Millions more dollars have been spent in the site location and preparation work in Glendale.

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