BY RICK HAMADA – East Oahu residents are calling foul after the city administration recently ordered the killing of 18 peacocks in Koko Crater Botanical Gardens. Deemed a public nuisance by city officials, the peafowl were killed by federal officials, with a gunshot to the head or gas.
“Unbelievable abhorrence. I am haunted by the peacocks slaughter,” said Hawaii Kai resident Elizabeth Riley. “I, along with other community members, need our questions answered and we want to see the written complaint and response log. This type of action within our recreational area and in such close proximity to homes, warrants, at least, notice before action is taken.”
Area resident Mardi LaPrade says these birds were in the crater for at least a couple of decades, probably longer. “My family never experienced any problems when visiting the crater stables and trails in the garden. Why were they suddenly a problem?” she asks.
Last year, there was another controversy surrounding peacock deaths. The city prosecutor charged a Makaha woman, who fatally beat a peacock with a bat, with second-degree animal cruelty, which is punishable by up to a year in prison and a $2,000 fine.
However, the city defends its peafowl killings. “The peacocks, which were not indigenous to the garden or Hawaii, were overpopulating and killing rare plants. The Department of Parks and Recreation, through their normal chain of command, authorized the process,” says Hal Barnes, Special Assistant to Acting Mayor Kirk Caldwell.
The killings, which involved either carbon monoxide or fatal gunshot wounds to the head, were part of a $50,000 annual contract between the city’s Department of Parks and Recreation and the federal USDA Wildlife Services.
As part of an email response to Hawaii Reporter, City spokesman Bill Brennan said the peacocks tended to congregate in one area rather than wander around the 60-acre park. He added, “The purpose of the botanical gardens is to preserve native plants, not provide a home for non-indigenous peafowl that are noisy and relieve themselves everywhere.”
“This was not an eradication but a nuisance wildlife control operation,” said Mike Pitzler, State Director of USDA Wildlife Services. “We have a (Cooperative Service Agreement) with the City and County of Honolulu. The contents as written within the CSA provide us with the permission required to remove nuisance wildlife.”
Brennan says, “The contract covers five botanical gardens and helps control the populations of pigs and feral chickens, not just get rid of 18 birds.”
Kailua businessman Gary Weller believes killing is not the answer and is a waste of taxpayer money. “With all the problems we have in the city and the state,” he said, “I think we could be looking at more important things then killing some birds in a botanical gardens that eat some plants.”
USDA Wildlife Services reports that the actual associated cost for each bird euthanized was $55.00. Total expense for the peafowl removal was $990.
Hawaii Kai Neighborhood Board members question why the issue was never raised before at any meetings prior to the killings, and want to know exactly how many complaints were made against the birds, and who authorized the operation, which occurred over multiple days in February. They also question the speed in which the city acted, because normally residents say the city takes its time in responding to community concerns – if responding at all.
Hawaii Kai resident Mardi LaPrade said she did not find out about the peafowl removal until June, when it was listed in the Board minutes of that month’s meeting. “It happened so fast, I do not think the board knew about it until it was done,” she says.
LaPrade says she wants to know exactly which plants were harmed and why other solutions were not considered and or used, such as fencing off the plants, or even relocation of the birds.
Pitzler said that relocation of the peafowl on the Island of Oahu is not an option as “. . .we would simply be moving the problem.”
In a city email response to Weller, Barnes said, “The state Department of Land and Natural Resources does not allow peacocks to be transported and moved around the state. As someone who once had two peacocks roaming freely in my front yard of 10 acres for several years, I greatly appreciate their beauty, but can attest to what a nuisance they can become.”
As for the other questions, Brennan said he is seeking the answers from the appropriate departments. Hawaii Reporter has not yet received a response.
Weller commented, “The city said that they could not remove the birds to other places or farms because of state laws. It has turned out that it is not a law, but a policy. And we know how many policies they change all the time. So the birds are killed. What did we learn?”
No further killings of peacocks have been ordered since the controversy.
Rick Hamada wrote this story for Hawaii Reporter. He also hosts his own talk radio show on 830 AM KHVH News Radio, Monday through Friday, from 5 a.m. to 9 a.m.