December 5th 2002
Going fowl on ferals
I noted with interest last month's column by National Parks about feral animals on Magnetic Island. I have a property in Horseshoe Bay which is infested with one of the feral species mentioned in the article - the guinea fowl.
For many years I have observed the large number of guinea fowl running freely around the privately owned lands of Horseshoe Bay but it wasn't until I moved from Picnic Bay just over 12 months ago that I could not help but notice the large number of guinea fowl compared to the number of native birds. There were almost 4 dozen guinea fowl on my property alone compared to about 6 curlews.
What really struck me was that there were less curlews on 10 acres in Horseshoe than I had on a house block in Picnic. Sure there seemed to be more free roaming dogs in Horseshoe but I could not help but think there may be other factors influencing the numbers.
I was curious to know more about guinea fowl and whether these interesting creatures might also be impacting on curlew numbers. I decided to learn more about them and my investigations have revealed the following:
Guinea fowl (Numida meleagris) are an African species which eat seeds and insects;
they are classified as "poultry" by Townsville City Council and also by all relevant poultry books that I have examined;
* they certainly are not Orange Footed Scrub Fowl, Scrub Turkeys, Swamphens or any other Australian native wildlife;
* under Council regulations they are banned from free-ranging anywhere in the Council area even on the mainland;
*obviously they are also banned from free ranging on our beautiful Island, located as it is within the World Heritage listed Great Barrier Reef zone;
* a few guinea fowl were brought to Magnetic Island and went feral many years ago;
they have been expanding their habitat range and numbers ever since;
* they were originally brought to the Island for their well-known table qualities. They are delicious and are apparently found in some of the world's most expensive restaurants. Even the guinea fowl clubs - whose breeders apparently have emotional attachments to some of them - rave about their fine table qualities;
*guinea fowl have many nutritional qualities that make them a very worthwhile addition to the diet. Second to turkey in Kcal - having 134 Kcal per 100 grams -the meat is lean and rich in essential fatty acids;
*Townsville retail outlets sell them frozen for $18.90 --about 2 to 3 times the price of other frozen chooks;
My personal observations are:
*they often congregate and feed side by side with curlews and generally scratch around like other chooks and in doing so compete with Magnetic Island indigenous birds such as kookaburras and curlews and even with wallabies (because they also eat seeds);
* they have dominated the native curlew habitat and outnumbered curlews on my place by about 44 guinea fowl to about 6 Curlews although recent night time spotlighting counts put the curlew population at just 3 individuals on 10 acres;
*they often cause environmental damage to the ground with their scratching which in dry times like now is causing clouds of dust to rise which may cause faster erosion when the wet eventually arrives;
My research and observations lead me to believe that:
* this ratio of introduced guinea fowl to native curlews (44 to 6 or 3?) is completely out of whack and is most concerning. Imagine the curlews on your place being outnumbered 15 to 1 by an introduced competitor - and noisy competitors at that;
* they compete very successfully with native they must put pressure on native species numbers especially in large numbers and especially in times of drought when their food supplies are short;
* anyone who calls themselves a Magnetic Islander has a responsibility - especially in times of drought - when natural food is short -- to help the native wildlife which has been here far longer than any person emotionally attached to guinea fowl;
* their loud noises - especially at dusk are an unnatural invasion to one's privacy.
I am becoming particularly anxious because they are now invading the curlew's last retreat on my place - the area right beside my home where I have been watering the new garden (from my well) and a few insects are appearing. Nice food normally for the curlews but currently being demolished by the guinea fowl.
Some residents apparently regard them as pets but to me they are just noisy chooks -- uninvited ones at that! I would feel the same if my property was being invaded by guinea grass, guinea pigs, European rats, Indian Mynah Birds, English Pigeons or Sparrows or any other feral.
Whilst I am an animal lover (a dog breeder and Championship Show judge before I moved to Magnetic Island but I choose not to have a dog on the Island) I have no more emotional attachment to guinea fowl than I do to a piece of KFC.
This is not about whether I "like" guinea fowl. I happen to think they are interesting to observe. Guinea fowl even look impressive in big flocks, darting around with their peculiar gait and antics. They are fun to watch. I can understand why people like them. I like them. I like most animals. (An exception might be plovers which attack me anytime I walk to the back of the block but I accept plovers because they are here naturally and I am intruding on their territory - after all plovers were here before me or any current resident).
So I like guinea fowl but would prefer to rid my property of them. At the same time I dislike plovers and want them to stay. Am I a fool? Hopefully not. It is purely my love of Australian natural life which motivates me to want to remove the guinea fowl from my land. Like the guinea grass which also thrives here, I think guinea fowl do not belong on Magnetic Island. Especially free ranging as they do.
To those who regard guinea fowl as pets please remember some people think of guinea fowl as pests. Please think about your beautiful Island and please be aware that the Council is prosecuting others in Horseshoe Bay for free-ranging other fowls.
The first hundred or so rabbits released into the Australian bush probably also looked cute and were regarded as pets by some people (not the people who released them to breed for their hunting and table qualities) but eventually rabbits were recognised by every thinking person as a pest.
Guinea fowl were released in a small flock and now they number many. Some say in the hundreds. It is apparently the largest flock of free ranging guinea fowl anywhere in Queensland. If that is so, I think it is shameful. As a community I think we really should do something about it.
The bottom line here is that I could legally remove these feral fowls from my land and there is no requirement for me to notify or consult with anyone. Technically I could even be prosecuted for having them on my land. 44 to 6 (3?) on my block alone is too many.
However, I would not be able to do anything about the rest of the Bay so they would remain roaming around the Bay.
I write this simply to inform readers and perhaps to hopefully prompt others to consider possible solutions on their land pursuant to the article by National Parks in last month's issue.
If anyone has any similar concerns please write to me at firstname.lastname@example.org as I earnestly seek written ideas on possible solutions to this problem. (There is no point in ringing the booking office of my business as most times I am not there and when I am I really do not have much time free for non-work matters). If you do not have e-mail please write to me at 115 Horseshoe Bay Road.
In the meantime if they are your "pets" please be responsible and keep them off my land.
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