Killing Denver's Sentient Geese is Flawed in Many Ways
An Animal Rights Article from All-Creatures.org

FROM Marc Bekoff, Psychology Today/Animal Emotions
July 2019

The round-up and slaughter of geese are biologically and ethically unsound.

From Marc: In response to this essay, someone wrote me about some new innovative non-lethal technology that can be used to keep geese away. (See "Babylon Village geese-removal tool puts fake bird of prey in the air.")) I've also been told that the USDA knows about it and hasn't tried to use it.

Geese family
Image from pixabay.com

"There are so many things wrong with Coloradoís latest planned attack on wildlife ó itís hard to know where to begin...If this were about feeding indigent families, which itís not, killing wildlife in such an unsportsmanlike way is not only repugnant, but insulting to those who are seriously working to stop rampant food waste and to help those in need." ("Mindless cruelty for the sake of a tidy park," Julie Marshall)

"A greylag goose that has lost its partner shows all the symptoms that [developmental psychologist] John Bowlby has described in young human children in his famous book Infant Grief ...the eyes sink deep into their sockets, and the individual has an overall drooping experience, literally letting the head hang..." (Nobel laureate, Konrad Lorenz)

Denver's killing spree of urban geese, often dismissed as a round-up or a rodeo, and the purported use of goose meat to feed needy people, are biologically and ethically misguided. What was essentially a local issue for a while, this on-going slaughter has attracted global attention along with a good deal of criticism, and it should be stopped immediately.

For the past week, my email inbox has been ringing off the hook, so to speak, and it's worth briefly revisiting what is happening to these fascinating and sentient bird beings and how ill-conceived and heartless the goose removal program truly is. I became deeply involved in this on-going massacre and first learned of it from a number of emails sent to me by very concerned citizens. (See "The Healing Power of Geese and Other Animals.")

Some reasons why the round-up and slaughter of geese are biologically and ethically misguided.

ďThe killing of NYC's geese is costly, ineffective, and shamefully inhumane..."

"Slaughter only clears the area temporarily as other geese will repopulate the vacant desirable habitat."

Killing geese because of the damage they do to local environments will not solve the problem in the long-term. For example, thousands of geese were killed in 2018 and 2019 as part of Denverís goose management plan. It's a feel good solution for some people because the geese disappear as they're being rounded up and killed. However, the killing plan will continue in the future with a maximum of 2,200 geese being killed each year. Killing basically creates a vicious and violent cycle.

Ethics also enter the scene. First, the words that are used to refer to the killing spree count. For example, many who write or talk about this program and others in which nonhuman animals (animals) are killed use the word "culling." Of course, "culling" is a way to sanitize what they're really doing, and that is killing them often in extremely harmful ways. Sometimes those responsible for these killing sprees or those who carry them out say they're "euthanizing' whoever is on their hit list.

This also is misleading because euthanasia refers to mercy killing because an individual is in interminable pain or incurably ill. It's the last and most difficult choice that people have to make, but using the word seems to make some people feel okay with what they've done. As an example, a headline in a local paper in my hometown of Boulder, Colorado reads, "Wildlife officers kill aggressive bear in Boulder." The subtitle reads, "A bear that had been previously relocated out of Boulder in 2015 was euthanized Tuesday after it had returned to Boulder and was aggressive toward wildlife officers." This bear clearly wasn't euthanized, but rather he, like the geese, was killed, and he really didn't have to be slayed .

The healthy and sentient geese who are targeted are clearly harmed and do, indeed, suffer.

Let's also consider the phrase "undue harm." The geese who are being killed in Denver are healthy and sentient bird beings. Scott Gilmore, deputy executive director or Denver Parks and Recreation, has been quoted as saying, "While he understands the cause for concern, he said the USDA managers are trained to carry out the task without undue harm to the animals." (My emphasis) When I mentioned this to a few people they all asked something like, "What in the world is 'undue harm'?" Similar to the use of words such as "culling" and "euthanizing," they're a feel good way to justify acts that clearly have horrific consequences for the recipients.

There's no way the geese aren't being harmed before they're slaughtered. Geese are sentient beings, they are crammed together in the rodeo-style round-up, and families and other friendships are broken up. It might feel good to claim that the corralling of these animals is being done "without undue harm," but it's a simply not true. They don't necessarily suffer any less than many nonhumans with whom we're familiar, including companion dogs and other animals.

In conversation, someone asked me, "Do you think they would they do this if the geese were dogs?" I said I would like to believe that the answer would be a resounding "No!" So, if someone wouldn't kill dogs who are labeled as "problems," why kill the geese?

Geese are not dumb, unfeeling objects, but rather highly emotional beings. (See For the Birds: From Exploitation to Liberation.) Many animals display profound grief at the loss or absence of a close friend or loved one. Nobel laureate ethologist Konrad Lorenz one wrote, "A greylag goose that has lost its partner shows all the symptoms that [developmental psychologist] John Bowlby has described in young human children in his famous book Infant Grief ...the eyes sink deep into their sockets, and the individual has an overall drooping experience, literally letting the head hang..." (See "Grief in animals: It's arrogant to think we're the only animals who mourn.") So, not only are the geese cruelly rounded up, but they also suffer on the path to their being killed.

Using goose meat to feed "the needy."

"The meat from slaughtered geese is delivered to food banks with a warning label from the Health Department that it should not be consumed more than twice per month because it may have been exposed to environmental contaminants. Eating goose meat can be extremely harmful to one's health. Wild urban geese travel to many different locations, are exposed to various toxins including mercury and lead, and pesticides." (See The Facts About NYC's Annual Canada Goose Slaughter)

It's also not clear what's really happening to the birds who are rounded up. As a supposed "upside" to the geese being slaughtered we're told that their meat will be used to feed needy people. Along with many others who have weighed in, I'm all for feeding the needy. However, many people who have weighed in want to know how this is being done. They also have noted that it's unlikely that this program will have much, if any, success. For example, USDA biologist Kendra Cross, who manages Denver's killing, "would not say how the geese are killed." The meat processing plant does the job, but she would not divulge the businessís name, nor where the meat goes, for fear of retaliation against the company." What a cop-out. And, in an interview with Colorado Public Radio, Mr. Gilmore said he really didn't want to know what was happening to the geese after they were rounded up.

This is yet another cop-outóround up animals to be killed supposedly to feed some humans and then wash your hands of what happens to them as if you're not directly responsible for their death when, in fact, you are.

Concerning whether or not the goose meat is actually safe to eat, and many do not think it is, someone just emailed me and asked, "Would they feed the goose meat to their family?" Using urban goose meat as food for anyone raises some very serious ethical questions that shouldn't casually be swept under the rug because it sounds like a good and well-meaning idea. It's not.

Where to from here? We need transparency rather than "deception and obfuscation."

Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world; indeed, it's the only thing that ever has. (Margaret Mead)

"Killing geese never works!! This is nothing but a pay check for USDA!!" (via email)


As Julie Marshall notes, "There are so many things wrong with Coloradoís latest planned attack on wildlifeóitís hard to know where to begin." I couldn't agree more. I'm glad that so many people are getting involved in calling attention to these mass killings that will continue in years to come unless those responsible come to realize that they really don't work and they're ethically misguided. As the late Gretchen Wyler once aptly noted, "Cruelty can't stand the spotlight."

I agree, and when we see cruelty we must call attention to it. An email I received from someone trying in vain "to get the facts" from city officials is right on the mark. It reads, "Deception and obfuscation seem to be the strategy all of them are using right now." We need transparency, rather than people, including city officials, trying to pass the buck, putting out misleading information, or trying to walk away from what's really happening because they don't want to face the gory details. An email I received about the misinformation that's been put out asked, "Do they think we're stupid or something?"

Along with Margaret Mead's noting, "a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world," people who are against killing geese need to speak out politely and forcefully and be sure their voices are heard, and they will be doing so. Denver's ill-founded and misguided goose killing program is a perfect place to begin. The round-up and slaughter of geese are biologically and ethically unsound and must be carefully scrutinized and openly discussed.

Note:

In response to this essay, someone wrote me about some new innovative non-lethal technology that can be used to keep geese away. (See "Babylon Village geese-removal tool puts fake bird of prey in the air.") I've also been told that the USDA knows about it and hasn't tried to use it.


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