“They poop––kill them.” NEW TWIST TO SILENT SPRING

From ANIMAL PEOPLE, July 1996:

CHATHAM, Massachusetts– –
Three stories simultaneously moving on the
newswires at the beginning of June called to
mind the late Rachel Carson, author of Silent
Spring, the expose of chemical poisons and
their effect on birds that 35 years ago marked
the start of environmental militancy.
Carson would have applauded an
eight-state program of cooperation with state
government and private industry that the U.S.
Fish and Wildlife Service credited with cutting
the number of major illegal bird poisoning
cases in the central and northern Rockies
last year to just three, down from nine in
1994. As in Carson’s time, eagles who
allegedly prey on lambs remain the primary
targets, but the victims can now be counted
in the dozens, not the hundreds, and bald
eagles, then apparently headed toward
extinction, are now off the Endangered
Species List––which was created as part of
the Endangered Species Act, a measure
Carson advanced but which was not passed
until nine years after her 1964 death.

Carson predicted the second story,
the discovery of researchers Paul Jones and
James Ludwig that DDT continues to accumulate
in the avian food chain, even afflicting
black-footed albatrosses on Midway
Atoll. Midway is located 3,100 miles from
Los Angeles, 2,400 miles from Tokyo, and
1,150 miles from Honolulu––as far as one
could get from major pollution point sources.
Carson’s primary target, DDT has now been
banned for more than 20 years in the U.S.,
Canada, and western Europe, but remains
commonly used in the Third World. And
exactly as Carson forsaw, DDT, along with
build-ups of PCBs, banned for 15 to 20 years
in most developed nations, is believed to be
causing a recent 3% drop in successful albatross
hatchings, compounding the risk to several
albatross species caused by entanglements
in drift nets.
Carson lived to see Alfred
Hitchcock’s 1962 film The Birds, inspired in
part by Silent Spring, but that the U.S. Fish
and Wildlife Service would poison thousands
of birds ostensibly to save birds was a horror
she apparently never envisioned. Ironically,
it was that alleged conservation effort which
brought Silent Spring to Cape Cod.
Supposedly protecting nesting sites of the
endangered piping plover, the U.S. Fish and
Wildlife Service on May 20 placed bread poisoned
with a chemical called DRC1339
around 2,800 gulls’ nests in the Monomoy
National Wildlife Refuge, an island just off
the Cape to the south. The poisoning succeeded
despite activists who dropped 400
charcoal-soiled tuna sandwiches into the
refuge one day earlier, hoping to teach the
gulls to avoid bread. At least 1,826 gulls were
confirmed dead by June 6, having sometimes
taken up to a week to fall due to poisoninduced
kidney failure. Survivors were frequently
seen––and photographed–– beside
fallen mates.
There were 14 nesting pairs of piping
plovers on Monomoy last year, the most
since 1955, but still far short of the USFWS
target of 94 nesting pairs. By contrast, there
are 555 piping plover nests along the
Massachusetts mainland coast, 89% of the
USFWS recovery target, where some restrictions
on beach use have now been lifted.
The gull poisoning was at first popular
with beach-goers. Said Cape Cod visitor
Susan Zachmeyer, of Bettendorf, Iowa, to
Boston Globe reporters Judy Rakowsky and
Matt Bai: “They poop––kill them.”
Humane Society of the U.S. vice
president for wildlife John Grandy even
charged that the poisoning was undertaken
chiefly to deflect flak over beach use restrictions
imposed to safeguard piping plovers’
nests, a theme echoed in court by attorney
John Stevens, who represented HSUS, the
Orenda Wildlife Trust, and the Massachusetts
SPCA in an unsuccessful bid for an
injunction to stop the poisoning.
“Is the Fish and Wildlife Service
saying that gulls have to die so that the
surfers can drive their beach buggies on
Nauset Beach?” Stevens asked.
But U.S. District Judge George
O’Toole ruled against him, outraging Emily
Bateson, land project director for the Bostonbased
Conservation Law Foundation, who
explained in a May 29 letter to The New York
T i m e s, “The USFWS itself predicts that up
to 80 plovers may be squashed yearly,” as
result of the loosening of beach use restrictions
on the mainland. “In sum, just as many
plovers will now be squashed by dune buggies
on the mainland as will nest––
maybe––at the so-called wildlife refuge.”
By week’s end, after more than a
third of the dead gulls fell in a residential
area near White Pond, public opinion turned.
Letters to local newspapers heavily backed
protests led by Citizens to End Animal
Suffering and Exploitation and the Boston
Vegetarian Society, among other animal and
habitat protection groups.
Stephen Kress, manager of the
National Audubon Society’s Maine Coast
Sanctuaries program, defended the gull poisoning.
Similar poisoning, to help roseate
terns, was done simultaneously on Pond
Island, Maine. Over the past 22 years, gull
poisoning has been part of habitat reclamation
efforts on behalf of terns and Atlantic
puffins in Muscongus Bay, Penobscot Bay,
Casco Bay, and Blue Hill Bay. Without poisoning
gulls, Kress said, “we would have
been in the role of documenting their disappearance
rather than their recovery.”
“We value gulls. They’re an important
part of the ecosystem,” said USFWS
official Stan Skutek. “But if they’re all gulls,
it doesn’t give the other birds a chance.”
Massachusetts Audubon Society
advocacy director Jack Clarke argued at a
March public hearing that the Monomoy poisoning
was unnecessary because the gull population
had already dropped by a third due to
the closing of two local landfills.
Massachusetts Audubon executive
director Robert Prescott added in May that
despite the scope of the Monomoy killing,
“There are 10,000 gulls left. Those gulls will
be looking for plovers and terns to eat.”
But as usual, the main threat came
from humans. On June 13, USFWS posted a
reward for information leading to the arrest
and conviction of someone who took four
piping plover eggs from one of the two nests
on the protected part of Chapin Beach, just
across the water from Monomoy.
DiMedici Down Under
In contrast to the public furor over
the Monomoy seagull poisoning, a USFWSapproved
campaign to trap and gas cowbirds
in the vicinity of the San Joaquin Hills toll
road near Santa Ana, California, drew no
more notice than the Maine poisoning has
over the years. The Transportation Corridor
Agencies, sponsoring the toll road, are helping
pay for the cowbird massacre as part of a
plan to protect the endangered California
gnatcatcher, offsetting destruction of gnatcatcher
habitat. Cowbirds lay their eggs in
other birds’ nests, often destroying some of
the eggs of the birds they thus oblige to rear
cowbird young.
But plans to poison some animals
on behalf of others did create a stir in New
Zealand, where researcher Nic Alterio on
May 29 announced he had found a way to kill
both feral stoats and cats, who are between
them said to be hitting wild kiwi nests so
hard that a recent study of 20 nests over a
five-year period reportedly found predation
afflicting them all. No Okarito brown kiwis,
the rarest subspecies, reached maturity.
Flightless and highly endangered,
kiwis are the smallest of the ratite family,
lacking the speed and size that protects such
larger relatives as the ostrich, emu, and cassowary.
Alterio’s scheme to protect them
involves poisoning mice and rats first, causing
stoats and cats––whose primary prey are
not birds but mice––to die of secondary poisoning.
Estimating that 95% of all wildhatched
kiwi chicks are eaten by predators,
35% more than the species can afford to lose,
New Zealand conservation minister Denis
Marshall has encouraged Alterio.
Kiwi conservation may soon
include captive breeding as well, however,
as on April 11 the New Zealand Department
of Conservation achieved the first-ever incubator
hatching of a kiwi egg. Barbara
Burlingame of the New Zealand Crop and
Food Research Institute promptly told a meat
industry conference in Wellington that kiwis
are among six species traditionally eaten by
the Maori which might have agricultural
potential. The others are the wood pigeon,
godwit, albatross, pukeko, and shearwater,
also known as muttonbird. Her theme was
echoed by the June edition of The National
Geographic, which reported that the USDA
has approved the sale of meat from all ratites.
“The Federal stamp of approval
should help persuade consumers to try the
unusual bird products,” The National
Geographic speculated.
Objecting to the prospect of kiwis
being eaten, or becoming part of the international
ratite speculation boom, Stu Moore of
the New Zealand Department of
Conservation’s Christchurch field office
pointed out that, “The kiwi is protected
under the New Zealand Wildlife Act and the
Convention on International Trade in
Endangered Species.” Thus kiwis cannot be
legally exported, except as part of recognized
conservation programs.
Said New Zealand environment
minister Simon Upton, “There’s no chance
the kiwiburger will ever get off the ground.”
But that’s just why kiwis are at risk:
they can’t fly from predators.
Pigeons and ratites
Earlier, on March 25, kiwis gained
more protection when the New Zealand
Department of Agriculture banned the import
of ostriches and emus, at least through July.
The somewhat controversial ban was
explained as an attempt to halt the possible
arrival of avian diseases, which could quickly
spread from domestic fowl to wildlife.
Hoping to profit by ratite meat,
amid global panic over mad cow disease,
New Zealand ratite importers and would-be
buyers were dismayed, not least because
France-Autruches, a firm based in Nantes,
France, in mid-April sold 200 emus and 300
ostriches to the Arabian Ostrich breeding
farm north of Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, whose
executives expected to get rich quick––and to
be lauded for returning a species native to the
Arabian desert but extirpated about 50 years
ago. Among the disgruntled would-be New
Zealand ratite entrepreneurs were former
sheep ranchers who lost their main market in
1991 when Saudi Arabia banned sheep
imports from both New Zealand and
Australia because too many sheep were
unhealthy upon arrival by ship.
Rubbing salt into the wound, the
Saudi ostrich deal was completed just as New
Zealanders formerly would have been moving
to meet the biggest Saudi demand for live
sheep of the year, in connection with the
annual Feast of Sacrifice, often celebrated at
the end of pilgrimages to Mecca, which
attract Islamic faithful from around the world.
The NZDA looked prescient, however,
by May 22, when the Finn National
Veterinary and Food Research Institute in
Helsinki confirmed the April 16 outbreak of
the first Finn episode of Newcastle disease
since 1971––an outbreak of possible international
Just a day later the British
Ministery of Agriculture destroyed 1,600
pheasants at a game bird breeding farm and
imposed a six-mile quarantine on all poultry,
hoping to halt an outbreak of Newcastle
there. The last Newcastle outbreak in Britain,
in 1984, caused the slaughter of 800,000
birds at 22 poultry farms; a comparable outbreak
could kill every bird in New Zealand.
Newcastle is not fatal to humans, but humans
can suffer flu-like symptoms from it.
The origin of both European
Newcastle outbreaks is officially unknown.
“However,” said Finn researcher Lasse
Nuotio, “a possible source is a flock of 25
wild pigeons captured in Helsinki and transferred
on March 25 to Oulu University
research facilities.” On the other hand, he
added, “There are no reports of increased
mortality among wild pigeons in Helsinki.”
Were the pigeons really from
Helsinki? There is a small international traffic––often
clandestine––in pigeons for captive
bird shoots and meat, and there were
two hints right then that some people in
Britain might be selling pigeons to any takers,
no questions asked. First, a Customs
and Excise tribunal in Bristol, England,
ruled on March 21 that pigeon racing does
not qualify for exemption from the valueadded
tax given to other sports, because the
pigeons rather than the people do most of the
work. Pigeon fanciers in Ireland, Belgium,
and The Netherlands enjoy such an exemption,
as do British anglers and horse racers—
but British greyhound racers do not.
In short, no more keeping racing
pigeons––and gambling on them––as a screen
for either local tax evasion or international
Scotland Yard was already on the
pigeon detail, battlng trappers who allegedly
take pigeons from Trafalgar Square, London,
to illicitly supply the meat-pie trade. One
Jason Lidbury, 17, told a tabloid paper that
he’d trapped and sold 1,500 pigeons himself.
London has an estimated 1.5 million
pigeons. Cleaning pigeon poop from
Trafalgar Square alone costs $160,000 a year,
but while other cities struggle to evict
pigeons, the London flocks are popularly
viewed as a national heritage.
Scotland Yard was reportedly not
looking into any American-style “pigeon
drop” schemes, but was called into an ongoing
probe of the spring ratite boom and ensuing
bust. Preliminary investigation by the
British Securities and Investment Board preceded
the collapse of three ostrich speculation
ventures in 30 days when in early June
the Ostrich Farming Corporation petitioned
for dissolution, just days after the Pinstripe
Farming Company did likewise, following
by a few weeks the demise of World Ostrich
Farms. All three ventures had hoped to profit
by the turn of British consumers away from
beef, during the mad cow disease scare.
OFC, formed in 1986, is reportedly
now the subject of additional probes by the
Department of Trade and Industry and the
Serious Fraud Office. OFC apparently drew
investigative attention after it and the parallel
Ostrich Breeding Corporation in March sued
the then-18-month-old Ostrich Breeding
Company for alleged unethical duplication of

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