Thursday, May 2, 2019

Theories, Guesses and Lies -- Keep the Salt Shaker Handy

Over the years, those struggling to protect the wildlife of city parks have had to contend with many false claims put forth by those advocating for destruction and/or "discouragement" of park wildlife.

 The most recent theory to be "tossed at wall" is the suggestion (by a feeding ban supporter) that the 8 of 9 goslings who perished at the Jackie Onassis Reservoir last summer were all likely victims of "Snapping turtles." 

 Of course there is no evidence to back up this claim nor even documentation to show Snapping turtles actually exist at the world famous location. 

Neither myself nor friends have ever seen a Snapping turtle at the Reservoir and I personally was there thousands of times. (Snappers do however live at some of the Central Park lakes and ponds.)

But even if we assume (for sake of argument) that Snapping turtles exist at Reservoir, the suggestion that they suddenly took out 8 of 9 otherwise healthy goslings more than a month-old and within a week is preposterous.

Goslings move fast and have two protective parents. Snapping turtles move extremely slowly and mostly stay at the bottom of the water in sand or mud.

Moreover, Snapping turtles are omnivores who mostly eat plants, worms, insects, fish, frogs or ailing birds.
Despite Snapping turtles at Turtle Pond and the Lake in Central Park over the past decade, no goslings fell victim to them.

Of course, I have no "hard evidence" that the demise of the 8 goslings last summer was due to malnutrition. 

But that theory is based on circumstantial evidence:

It is fact that the "natural food sources" for goslings (plants, grass, vegetation) were destroyed around the Reservoir last spring.

It is fact that goslings have to constantly eat in order to attain adult size and flight within three months of age.

It is fact that all 8 goslings perished at about a month-old and all within ten days of each other. 

Ruling out deliberate poison as possible cause, that leaves few options. (No dogs, foxes, coyotes or fishermen around Reservoir.)

It is possible that poor nutrition left goslings in a weakened state, thereby making them vulnerable to predation by regular turtles or hawks. In such case, malnutrition is contributing and primary (if not final), cause of death.

One of the most popular "theories" (especially on the Internet) by those opposing any support of park wildlife is that human feeding (especially bread) "may cause Angel Wing."

 The key word in that sentence is "may."

 I could claim that drinking coffee "may cause insanity in humans."

 That doesn't mean it does. 

 "May, might, could and can" are disqualifying (or guessing) words that don't require actual evidence to back then up. 

And so we find little evidence to back up the charge that bread causes Angel Wing.  On the contrary, the few scientific studies done on this question suggest the condition to be primarily genetic in causation. (It mostly occurs in domestic fowl raised for meat or eggs.)

Even more to the point, Angel Wing rarely occurs in wild mallard populations and these are the birds most fed bread in public parks.

Another "may" that is particularly disconcerting is the claim that human feeding "may delay bird migrations."

Bird migrations are established over thousands of years. And while there are occasional variations due to climate changes, presence of predators or available natural food sources, birds don't alter migratory patterns based upon some humans feeding treats. When the calendar tells birds to move, they move.

So far, we have discussed theories, guesses and speculations.

But there are times when park officials and representatives outright lie to people. Such was the case in 2010 when park spokespeople from Prospect Park told questioning park goers that the park's 360 molting geese and goslings "flew to a nearby cemetery."

 The truth was, the geese and their babies had been rounded up at dawn on that sultry July 8th morning and sent for gassing.

The bottom line to all this is that unfortunately, one cannot take as "fact," claims and charges made by those whose goal appears to be the destruction of or pushing out of wildlife from city parks. - - Especially when those claims are preceded by unprovable, "May, might, could or can."

It's important to require evidence of claims and not just take at face value.  A salt shaker seems to be sad necessity when communicating  with park officials and representatives. 


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