Why is it that, when humans invade wildlife habitat, the humans resort to killing animals that get in their way? It’s a frustratingly common occurrence and is happening again in Staten Island, New York.
How the Staten Island Turkeys Came to Be
The problem started back in 1999 when a local resident released his nine pet turkeys to live on the grounds of South Beach Psychiatric Center, a campus with acres of trees, grass and open spaces. Through the years, the flock population increased to hundreds of birds because they interbred with wild turkeys, creating hybrids. Many of the turkeys actually frequent the town itself, walking to residential houses and roost in trees on landscaped yards.
Who would imagine a flock of turkeys making their home in New York City and local residents enjoying the interaction? It’s happening in Staten Island and many (though not all) of the town’s residents are fighting for the birds to be left alone.
Present Day Problems
Fast forward to 2013. The turkeys that locals think of as members of their community are now being scrutinized by South Beach Psychiatric Center as potential nuisances that need to be killed. Why? Because they leave feces that is a potential harbinger of disease and germs.
With that many large birds, the feces they leave does add up. After all, the turkeys don’t clean up after themselves. Before humans developed the land for their own habitation, the turkeys roamed freely throughout wooded grounds with no one to please but themselves.
South Beach Psychiatric Center contracted with the USDA (United States Department of Agriculture) to address the problem. In August of this year, USDA rounded up and killed about 90 of the turkeys.
Animal advocates reacted to the news by holding a rally against the cull. John M. Mancuso and GooseWatch NYC demonstrated with several elected officials and others to give the Staten Island turkeys a voice. This resulted in 28 of the remaining turkeys being taken to Catskill Animal Sanctuary in September. Success, right?
Well, in October the USDA came in and collected more turkeys and brought them to a slaughterhouse where they were killed. The meat will be tested and if deemed edible will be given to charities for the homeless. Feeding the homeless is a noble cause, but why does it have to be at the expense of sentient animals?
Animal Advocates Try to Help
David Karopkin, from GooseWatch NYC, expressed concerns about the birds being rounded up “under the cover of darkness” to be sent for slaughter. That is how the USDA collects the turkeys for culling. They arrive early in the morning — before sunrise — using pellets to attract the birds into large nets. The turkeys are then picked up by their necks and feet and tossed into poultry crates. The crates are stacked upon each other in a truck and they are transported to slaughterhouses for killing and processing.
Karopkin expressed frustration at the first response being death for the turkeys. He says neither South Beach Psychiatric Center nor the USDA have attempted non-violent methods of dealing with the turkey population like enforcing regulations to NOT feed wildlife, egg addling or lighting and sound barriers. South Beach Psychiatric Center may or may not have known that the truth is — when contracting with USDA — the only action they take is killing.
Many people mistakenly think it’s acceptable to feed wildlife, but in truth this makes the animals dependent upon humans for their food and teaches them to forget how to forage for food as nature intends. Some report there were no signs posted at South Beach Psychiatric Center advising against feeding wildlife. While many communities have ordinances against the practice — more often than not — people continue to feed the creatures they enjoy seeing and the ordinances are not enforced.
Talking about the 28 turkeys that made it alive to Catskill Animal Sanctuary, Kathy Stevens, founder of the Catskill Animal Sanctuary said “They didn’t seem to understand what sunflower seeds and corn were. They’d been eating peanut butter and jelly sandwiches for so long.”
Egg addling is a non-invasive method of birth control where people use oil to cover the eggs already laid thus preventing the poultry from fully developing. The birds continue to nest the eggs as usual but no baby turkey is born. Since this sometimes happens in nature, the birds are unaware that the “miscarriage” resulted from human intervention.
“With millions of people living where wildlife once thrived, some conflict is inevitable” says Karopkin. “Here we’ve only see[n] two responses from the government: ignore the problem and hope it goes away, or kill the animals. More options should be on the table, and more time should be allowed for their success.”
How You Can Help
Living on the shoreline, these turkeys survived Hurricane Sandy last year. How unfair is it that they should now be killed?
Karopkin wants to dialogue with South Beach Psychiatric Center and the USDA to consider non-lethal methods of dealing with the Staten Island turkeys. So far attempts at that have fallen on deaf ears. Please encourage open communication with regards to these turkeys and sign the Care2 petition. You can also contact directly:
Rosanne Gaylor, Executive Director, South Beach Psychiatric Center
Phone: (718) 667-2709
Karin A. Wagner, Ph.D. Deputy Director, Community Services
Phone: (718) 667-2742
Photo credit: Thinkstock
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