BY SYDNEY ROSS SINGER – What do you do when wildlife gets in the way of human activities?

If you are the USDA Wildlife Services, you kill the wildlife.

A recent slaughter of 80 cattle egrets nesting near Hilo airport is the Wildlife Service’s latest dirty deed. Birds that were not immediately killed by the gunshots aimed into their nesting tree were bludgeoned to death, all done in plain view of a horrified public. A few months ago this same agency killed 18 peacocks at Koko Crater on Oahu, creating a public outcry at that needless killing.

The peacocks were killed because they were non-native. Being non-native is considered a crime these days by environmental controllers. The egrets were killed for the same reason, and because they pose a threat to airplanes.

In both cases, killing these innocent, magnificent creatures was unnecessary. The peacocks could have been caught and adopted out. The egrets could have been discouraged from roosting near the airport by non-fatal means, such as by shooting blanks or using other auditory signals, catching them and moving them elsewhere, or perhaps by releasing some predators in the area to frighten them away, such as the Hawaiian Hawk. Methods like these are used at other airports in the world to deal with birds.

The public was not given advanced notice of this barbaric actions against wildlife, probably to avoid public outrage. If the public were involved, peaceful solutions could have been discussed. Instead, the public was exposed to extreme acts of violence and cruelty, modelled by government officials. The lesson to the public is that if something gets in the way of your activities, kill it.

Nobody wants to see an airplane go down because of a bird strike. Conflicts do exist between the activities of humans and wildlife. But the solution does not have to be killing the wildlife.

You can judge the degree of advancement of a civilization by the way it treats animals. Brutal solutions reflect brutal minds. Compassionate people look for peaceful solutions.

A society that prides itself on the Aloha spirit should make every effort to resolve conflicts peacefully and equitably, even if the dispute is with wildlife.

Unfortunately, the Federal and State governments these days are prejudiced against non-native species. Fifty years ago the government introduced the egrets to Hawaii. Now, they want them dead.

If these egrets were native to Hawaii, they would not have been killed. A way to discourage their nesting near the airport would have been found. And if they were an endangered native species, the entire airport could have been closed down and the area declared critical habitat.

The introduced egrets are really no different than native birds. They find a mate, raise babies, have feelings, and are capable of suffering. But they are immigrants to Hawaii, and immigrants all over the country are having a hard time trying to survive these days, whether they be human or nonhuman.

The Wildlife Services and their bloodthirsty buddies in State and County governments are committing crimes against wildlife and against the people who still have compassion in their hearts for creatures who, like the rest of us, are simply trying to eat, sleep, raise a family, and survive in this often cold, cruel world.

Yes, conflicts do exist between civilization and the wild. But before our civilization exterminates all life that gets in its way, we should realize that a civilization which maintains itself through barbaric acts of cruelty is doomed to self-destruct, since it is only a matter of time until it turns its violence against itself.

Sydney Ross Singer is the head of the Good Shepard Foundation on the island of Hawaii