More than 100 people — from animal rights activists to animal consumers as well — gathered on Saturday night beside a Prospect Park lake devoid of hundreds of Canadian geese slaughtered by federal officials last week for a somber and angry vigil.
The crowd of activists and regular park-goers vowed to turn their anger about the July 8 massacre into a campaign to get the city and the United States Department of Agriculture to change its policy about the killings of geese, which have been done periodically in the name of airplane safety, but have never been done in such a wholesale manner as the early morning secret operation inside Prospect Park.
“We have met with the city and the USDA and presented evidence that these slaughters are unnecessary and inhumane, but they refuse to listen,” said Patrick Kwan, New York State director of the Humane Society of the United States. “There are better ways, there are humane ways and there are more effective ways to control geese.”
Kwan addressed the need to keep airlines safe from bird strikes, but said that studies show that birds that hit airliners are typically migratory birds, as opposed to the Prospect Park population, which consisted of resident geese.
But on July 8, agents of the USDA, hired by the city, rounded up geese in movable pens, 20 or so at a time, and took them to a nearby vehicle to be gassed with carbon dioxide. The hours-long operation left an area of the park covered in feathers and plastic handcuff-like ties that were soon discovered by park-goers, and the secret was out.
“I’m not an ‘animal nut’ or anything, but the magnitude of this operation was just so disgusting to me,” said Andy Gensler, a Kensington resident who attended with his young daughter, Ida. “My daughter fed those geese. It’s just so horrible.”
The attendees were at the vigil for different reasons, which included hostility to the way the government conducted the slaughter, concern that the park itself had been scarred by the violence, and the general conviction that animal lives are no less important than those of humans.
“Canada geese have a right to live as much as we do,” said Wayne Johnson, an animal rights activist from Brooklyn Heights.
“What bothered me,” added Joan Cameron, “was the complete lack of ethics. It does not appear that they examined non-lethal solutions to this quote-unquote problem.”
Jeanne Grifo felt that the “assassins” had crossed a line.
“This park is a place of peace and relaxation, not carnage,” she said.
That opinion was shared by state Sen. Eric Adams (D–Park Slope), who prefaced his remarks by holding up a picture of a goose being trailed by six goslings.
“This picture says it all,” he said. “The relationship between a mother and child is not unique to human beings. These are babies, no matter what term we use for them.”
He also questioned the need for animal eradication at all.
“Geese do not need to adjust to us,” he said. “We have to adjust to them.”
Adams and Councilman Brad Lander (D–Park Slope) vowed to “not let this happen again,” as Adams put it.
One vigil attendee was particularly angry about a statement issued by Prospect Park Administrator Tupper Thomas, who finally broke her silence on Friday night in a statement that said that the geese had been “euthanized.”
“I can’t believe she used the term ‘euthanized,’ ” said Tony Chiappelloni, president of FIDO, the dog owners group that includes hundreds of regular park-goers. “Euthanasia is something you do to someone who has a painful, terminal disease and you want to end the pain.
“She knew! She knew this was coming and she did nothing to stop it,” Chiappelloni added. “And, worse, she knows these geese! She knows they aren’t migratory.”
Thomas’s statement said that the city would form a “wildlife management task force comprised of experts in the field” to “strengthen the Alliance and Parks Department’s commitment to safeguarding both nature and people.”
Vigil organizer Chio Flores, who also founded the “For the Love of the Geese in Prospect Park” Facebook page, suggested that Thomas’s “task force” would only be satisfactory if it abhorred violence.
“Killing these geese shows a lack of respect for life and is counter to the lessons we teach our children,” she said. “There is already so much violence in our children’s lives, so it’s wrong to teach them that violence is a tool. It is not.”