A stroke of bad cluck
Common chicken or endangered ancestor?: Controversy over the culling of city chickens
To cull, or not to cull: that is the question much of Singapore has been asking recently. At the heart of it is a population of free-roaming chickens across the island, but the question comes too late to save 24 unfortunate individuals who have already met their end.
Of these beleaguered birds, the ‘Sin Ming Avenue’ population was thrust only recently into the limelight. Reputed to be the native red junglefowl (Gallus gallus), the original ancestor of the common domestic chicken, they were featured in Wild City, the local documentary on urban wildlife that saw in them the makings of a star. However, some residents saw only a nuisance instead: 20 noise complaints from them were all it took for the Agri-Food and Veterinary Authority (AVA) to swoop in last month and cull them. These complaints were originally used to justify the cullings, but AVA was quick to change its tune following public backlash, claiming instead that it was a measured step to prevent the spread of avian flu.
The birds have no friend in the National Parks Board (NParks), either, which advocates the cull for another reason entirely. NParks believes the majority of the mainland population to be domestic chickens, thus running the risk of diluting the genetic pool with hybrids should they interbreed with the nationally-endangered red junglefowl. Junglefowl have grey legs, are capable of flight, and have only been identified in a few contained populations, NParks claims, while domestic chicken have yellow legs and are flightless. Oddly enough, anecdotes and photographic evidence of the now-deceased birds seem only to show the former.
In the wake of all this, management strategies need to be based not on impulses, but on science. Genetic analyses to determine the birds’ ancestry, research into the effects of culling and actual risks of disease spread should all be thoroughly considered. However, the government’s usual knee-jerk response points to an underlying issue with human-animal conflict - for a city so obsessed with its global branding as a ‘City in a Garden’, it shows itself to be rather intolerant of the wildlife we call our neighbours. As both our city and greenspaces develop and traditional urban-rural boundaries are breached, public education on the importance of sharing our common spaces becomes increasingly important. We have a responsibility to protect our natural heritage, and must do whatever we can to not cock it up.