Wild hens, roosters threat to Statia health and horticulture

“Wildfowls are a big problem. Look at this pumpkin,” says Greg David who with his wife La Verne Duggins are cultivating at Industry.

ST. EUSTATIUS–“Wild hens and roosters are becoming a menace on St. Eustatius,” says President of Eastern Caribbean Public Health Foundation Dr. Teresa Leslie. “The chicken may be an icon for this festive Easter season, but on the ‘Historical Gem,’ these feathered friends have become a threat to horticulture and to human health.”

Leslie’s fears are not misplaced. Three years ago, La Verne Duggins and her husband Greg David started to sow seeds on Industry Estate on plantation land her grandfather used to cultivate to supply produce for the family store. Last week, the Duggins crop of pumpkins was totally ruined by wild hens.

“I am devastated by these pecking pumpkin pests,” Duggins told The Daily Herald. “We fenced off our estate to prevent roaming animals from nibbling at our fruit and vegetables. Now we have to install chicken wire to deter these flying vermin.”

According to Leslie, chickens have become a general problem throughout the Caribbean. While it is difficult to estimate the population, she admits that their populous presence could pose a human health risk from avian influenza.

“Avian influenza or bird flu is a viral infection that can infect not only birds, but also humans and other animals,” Leslie warns. “Bird flu is seen generally as something that occurs in Asia. But in 2017, there was such an outbreak on a poultry farm in the Dominican Republic.”

Even though all strains of the virus are not fatal, appropriate precautions should be taken, according to Leslie.

“Such precautions would assist in preventing or lowering the probability of the disease occurring, while at the same time ensuring that all the necessary plans and systems are in place if an outbreak occurs.”

Roaming animals have become a nuisance on Statia,” Dr. Leslie asserts. “The bird flu only needs an intermediate host, such as one of the roaming pigs we have on Statia and a pandemic could break out. Chickens are everywhere on Statia – even in the Quill.”

Leslie says her foundation is already working closely with the Public Health Department to find ways to deal with rats and roaming animals.

Inspector Gershon Lopes of the Department of Agriculture, Animal Husbandry and Fisheries agrees. “We need better management strategies. Wild chickens should be culled to bring the population size down. In this way we can provide proper care to these animals and monitor them efficiently,” Lopes commented.

Source: The Daily Herald https://www.thedailyherald.sx/islands/75201-wild-hens-roosters-threat-to-statia-health-and-horticulture