There has been a public outcry over Singapore’s Agri-Food and Veterinary Authority’s (AVA) decision to cull 24 chickens. Many citizens believe that the culling was unnecessary.
Singapore’s Agri-Food and Veterinary Authority (AVA) recently culled 24 free-roaming chickens that were roaming in Thomson View and Blocks 452 to 454 in Sing Ming Avenue. There were earlier reports that it was AVA’s response to a few complaints from residents that the chickens were noisy.
AVA reveals real reason behind culling
Director-General of AVA, Yap Him Hoo, explained that the primary cause of the culling was that free-roaming chickens posed a health risk. He said, “The risk of free-roaming chickens in Singapore being exposed to bird flu is real and significant, as we are a stopover node for migratory wild birds. This means that chickens on our island can catch the disease through direct contact with wild birds or even through their droppings.”
AVA used recent bird flu outbreak examples in Denmark and China to defend their decision. According to the World Health Organization (WHO), most of the cases of human getting infected with bird flu were exposed to live poultry.
However, back in 2004, AVA stated that the avian virus links to waterfowl that do not migrate through Singapore.
Associate Professor Donald Low from the Lee Kuan Yew School of Public Policy did not agree with AVA’s decision to cull the birds. He said, “It cannot be the case that even the remotest possibility of a bird flu outbreak justifies mass culling. After all, chickens are not the only species that can be infected with bird flu. A cost-benefit analysis should have been done before the authorities decide to cull the chickens.”
Singapore’s free-roaming birds go beyond chickens
Singapore also has other free-roaming birds like pigeons, mynahs, and crows. Do they pose a health risk like free roaming chickens? Studies suggest that pigeons are quite resistant to bird flu infection. AVA could also examine other free-roaming birds to determine whether they pose a health risk so that they can educate the public health risk posed by birds. Perhaps there are other ways to reduce threats coming from free-roaming birds like relocation. However, an AVA spokesperson said, “The chickens were humanely euthanised, as relocation options are not available in land-scarce Singapore.”
The chickens culled were supposedly an endangered species
Another reason why this culling decision by AVA sparked citizen debate was that the chickens were allegedly red junglefowl which is endangered species. A documentary TV series, “Wild City,” featured the chickens that roamed freely in Sing Ming Avenue. Natural history legend Sir David Attenborough produced and narrated the show.
AVA has not responded to a query as to whether it conducted DNA testing on the culled chickens to determine if they were the endangered species of red junglefowl.
According to veteran nature guide Sabaraj Rajathurai, red junglefowl plays an important ecological role in Singapore. He said, “They feed on invertebrates and grain or seeds from grasses, and would be able to control the population of bugs that would have few ground-dwelling predators.”
Dr. Lena Chan, group director of NParks’ National Biodiversity Centre, is also considering a similar move made by AVA. She said, “Growth in free-ranging chicken populations increases the potential of interbreeding with red junglefowl and will adversely affect the conservation of our native species.”
AVA needs to engage the different stakeholders involved in this issue
One important task for AVA is to determine specific thresholds that will help them decide when to cull chickens or other animals. These thresholds can be determined in collaboration with scientists and wildlife experts to avoid haphazard culling.
AVA should conduct more studies with other stakeholders to understand Singapore’s animal and wildlife populations. A stakeholder approach to this matter will boost public health safety.
AVA can actively engage the community that lives near wildlife and animal welfare groups to find more humane alternatives to culling. For example, when the public feeds these free-roaming chickens, it can lead to an increase in their numbers. Public awareness campaigns to remind people not to feed the wildlife can help control their population, thus making culling unnecessary.