Mickaboo to the Rescue

Around this time Jennifer Erlichman from the parrot rescue group Mickaboo got involved. Mickaboo had been taking in sick and injured flock members for several years. Because of my travels, and because I was already full up at home with injured birds, I was unable to take in any more myself. Whenever San Francisco Animal Care and Control received an injured or sick cherry-headed conure they called Mickaboo. Jennifer had been the organization's point person for this. One day that winter she came down to see a feeding, and, like others, what she saw made her feel concern for the safety and well-being of the flock. Like me, she kept her concerns to herself. On several occasions the feeders helped Jennifer chase down sick or injured parrots who were then taken into the Mickaboo organization and adopted out to people willing and able to care for the disabled birds. The feeders trusted her, and she began trying to talk to them about the dangers they were creating and potentially facing.

For many years there'd been a problem of juvenile parrots coming down with a nervous system disease. I'd never had the resources to find out what it was. Mickaboo determined that it was a roundworm called Baylisascaris procyonis. Apparently, the parrots were picking up the worm from raccoon feces, and the worm was getting into the parrots' spines and brains. She found this on the Center for Disease Control web site:

Baylisascaris procyonis, a roundworm infection of raccoons, is emerging as an important helminthic zoonosis, principally affecting young children. Raccoons have increasingly become peridomestic animals living in close proximity to human residences. When B. procyonis eggs are ingested by a host other than a raccoon, migration of larvae through tissue, termed larval migrans, ensues. This larval infection can invade the brain and eye, causing severe disease and death. The prevalence of B. procyonis infection in raccoons is often high, and infected animals can shed enormous numbers of eggs in their feces. These eggs can survive in the environment for extended periods of time, and the infectious dose of B. procyonis is relatively low. Therefore, the risk for human exposure and infection may be greater than is currently recognized.

Jennifer warned the feeders about this, but it had no effect. One of their contentions was that since I'd never gotten it, it must not be a problem. (Later, the feeder group had some communication with someone from the CDC who contended that a person would have to eat an entire parrot to contract anything. Still, the quote above is taken from the CDC site. Take your pick.)

Strained Relations

My restrained grousing about the feedings finally came to an end in February, 2007 when I learned that the feeder group's web site had started sharing links with the web site of a pet parrot club in Minnesota. I wrote to the group:

The way this is happening, you're going to start linking up with parrot groups all across the country, who are going to link up with other parrot groups who will all be coming to San Francisco to feed the parrots. Then they're not wild birds anymore. They're a tourist attraction, a tourist ride. Nothing good can come of this. You're putting the flock in real danger.

That was the beginning of the end of civil relations between the feeders and myself. My accusation that they were putting the flock in danger angered them. But everything that I knew told me it was true. And I knew many others who felt the same way. The only people who disagreed with me were the feeders themselves and the passersby and tourists who'd never had both sides presented to them. I've never heard from a single person with a deep involvement in wildlife issues who thought these public feedings were a good thing. Nor did I ever hear the feeders come up with the name of anyone who did. Their defense was always that the general public enjoyed what they saw, so it was okay.

This was one of several lines of argument that the feeders began to elaborate as the controversy heated up. They frequently invoked the images of young children and people in wheelchairs being brought great happiness by the birds. Apart from being propagandistic, it is a human-centric argument. Human beings liking something is the reason that the natural world is in so much trouble. The feeders also claimed that when the temperature got too low, they performed a valuable service by providing food for the birds. But, as I've said over and over, cold is not an issue for the birds. I've seen how much cold they can handle, and it's considerable. Twenty-eight degrees is not a problem for them. The feeders also argued that parrots enjoy interacting with human beings, that they even seek it out! It's a silly argument. Try interacting with a wild parrot without having any food in your hand. Even if you do have food, it will take months to win the bird's trust. Once the food is gone, the bird is gone. They want the food, not the interaction. For company, they have each other. The feeders also suggested that we let the birds decide whether the feedings should continue. But who was going to explain to them that there are human beings who would like to own them? Who was going to explain lawsuits to them?

The chat room postings started getting hostile. On March 22, 2007 one of the feeders wrote that since the parrots weren't native to the area, arguments about their being natural were meaningless. He said, "If you want nature then the parrots should be exterminated like the eucalyptus trees." Now this is coming from someone who purports to love them and claims a right to act as one of their protectors. Questions about "native," "wild," and "natural" aside, if you love something you don't make hypothetical remarks about exterminating it. Comments like this only reinforced my opposition to the feeders.

A lot of fighting had broken out within the online group. I wasn't the only one concerned about what was happening. But nobody was convincing anybody of anything. The feeders were defensive and, at times, aggressive about what they were doing. With the arrival of spring, tourists were coming by in greater numbers, and the feeders were encouraging them to join in. As long as what they were doing wasn't illegal, some argued, why should they stop?

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