Sunday, June 12, 2011

War on birds

New Zealanders are often thought of as placid and calm.  We don’t get riled up much.  But when we do, the results are quite extraordinary.  JR’s Orchards, located just out of Greytown, is the region’s largest pipfruit grower and packhouse.

Since 2003 the owner John Van Vliet has employed 2 full time shooters.  They worked 7 days a week during the picking season shooting starlings presumably with shotguns.  They literally could not keep up with the swarms of starlings that would come to feed on John’s fruit.

In 2005 he tried what is known as a “molasses attack”.  He planned to use a helicopter to saturate the starling roost at Taumata Island, in rural Carterton, with a molasses spray to make the birds fall to the ground where they could be killed.  It failed when the birds flew off when the helicopter approached.

In 2007 he declared war.  He arranged for an explosives company to set off a massive explosion at Moroa.  It was effectively a napalm bomb.  The trees in which the birds were roosting were momentarily engulfed by a fireball that left thousands of birds either killed or maimed.  Visitors winding their way back home to Wellington over the Rimutaka hill would later report a huge fireball rise above the valley they had just left.

There was a bit of a fuss in the next few weeks as you can imagine.  The explosion left thousands of maimed starlings unable to fly.  The ones that didn’t fall to predators or run over on our roads literally starved to death.  Neighbours of the property were picking up dead and dying birds for days after.

A Wellington Regional Council senior biosecurity officer, the Wairarapa Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals president, and a gallery owner specialising in bird art were all quoted in the media as being concerned.  I understand the incident also made international headlines.

Well, the story has a happy ending.  I understand the orchardist has invested in nets for his trees to keep the birds out.

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