Bird poisoning: Do ‘pest birds’ deserve to die?

By J.Fan

Eurasian tree sparrow is commonly seen in cities and towns of eastern Asia, thus its conservation status falls in the least concern category. Many people do not pay attention to tree sparrow but the decreasing of tree sparrow’s population is sending an alarming message. Unfortunately, the decreasing in tree sparrow’s population does not concern the locals for they are also labeled as ‘pest animals’ to farmers. The students of National Pingtung University of Science and Technology Bird Ecology Research team found 381 dead wild birds in and around the red bean farmlands at Wandan, Pingtung County on October 7.

While the students were picking up the dead birds, the locals told them that the owner of the red bean farmland poisoned the birds. The owner has been poisoning the birds for days and there were more dead birds few days ago. There were 357 dead tree sparrows, 11 red collared doves, 11 spotted doves, and 2 common moorhens at the scene. The students said there were more dead birds in the field but they left to avoid distress encounter with the owner of the farmland. However, flocks of tree sparrows continue to fly into the field.

Photo courtesy of National Pingtung University of Science and Technology Bird Ecology Research team
Photo courtesy of National Pingtung University of Science and Technology Bird Ecology Research team

Every autumn, many farmers will plant red beans around the beginning of October. However, the wild birds will feed on the red beans, causing the farmers to whatever they can to chase away the birds. Some farmers soak rice in carbosulfan solution, the most toxic carbamate pesticides, and sprinkled them across the fields and roads. The wild birds die from eating the poisonous rice and the farmers just leave the dead bodies rot on the fields. The pesticides not only kill the birds, it also kills the black kite that feeds on the carcass.

However, this incident is not uncommon in the agriculture sector. According to research, it is estimated that over 1,900 birds died from pesticide poisoning in the past year. In 2012, the research team found 2,500 birds died of poisoning. Taiwan is the only country in Asia where the population of black kite is dropping unprecedentedly. Additionally, the population of tree sparrow in the northern Taiwan has fallen by 43 percent between 2009 and 2013. The research also found that it was the Agriculture Research and Extension Station in various districts encouraged the farmers to use carbosulfan in ‘pest bird’ control in the 90s.

Photo courtesy of National Pingtung University of Science and Technology Bird Ecology Research team
Photo courtesy of National Pingtung University of Science and Technology Bird Ecology Research team

Carbosulfan is a neurotoxic pesticide that is known to be particularly toxic to birds. It has one of the highest acute toxicities to human of any insecticide widely used on field crops. It can damage humans’ nervous system and reproductive system. The Environmental Protection Administration of U.S. has discovered that carbosulfan can flow into the rivers and streams with raindrops or penetrate into the underground water system through plants. It can have horrendous effect on our ecosystem, food web and the environmental balance. Canada and European Union have banned carbosulfan in 2008 and U.S. in 2009, while Taiwan continues to use it. The Ministry of Agriculture in Taiwan will slowly phase out highly toxic pesticides but carbosulfan will not be barred from the market until 2017.

In the recent years, the government and numerous social groups have been pushing for more environmental friendly approach on shooing the birds. They continue to try to educate the farmers by setting up “sample red bean fields” where there will be no bird poisoning and more eco-friendly methods. The inappropriate usage of intoxicated pesticides like carbosulfan is the elephant in the room but Taiwan’s agriculture policy has yet to address it.

Photo courtesy of National Pingtung University of Science and Technology Bird Ecology Research team
Photo courtesy of National Pingtung University of Science and Technology Bird Ecology Research team
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