On Singing Gardens

Lawrence W. Swan

Abstract


A Comment on the Proposed Importation Regulations on

Injurious Wildlife

!) represent several areas of concern regarding the importation of exotic animals into the United States. I am primarily a Professor of Biology, a zoogeographer and ecologist, and I am well aware of the history and ecology of alien species. As a Director of the San Francisco Zoological Society and involved in educational and research programs at the San Francisco Zoo, I have a deep interest in the functions of zoos. I am also involved in aviculture both as a research zoologist and as a breeder of birds.

I have many aviaries. One of these is a system of wire tubes that carries birds through the trees .on my acre in San Mateo County. Finches, weavers

 

and other small seed-eating birds fly as if free so that they exhibit territoriality and their natural behavior is not particularly limited. Shafts of color fly around me and it is all a delight and a wonder. My tropical birds mix with the exotic plants in my garden and I cannot help but consider that an aviary is in reality an extension of a garden. It is a garden that sings.

This similarity between a garden and an aviary may not be too apparent at first. Consider, however, that both are composed of exotic species and both are the product of breeders or enthusiasts, both are the result of an import trade and both have commercial, public, and private aspects. There are other close similarities, but for one reason or another, those individuals who resent exotic animals ·do not extend their animosity to carnations and camellias.

The assumption that every exotic animal is somehow "potentially dangerous" or "injurious," the very basis of this proposed legislation to ban the importation of exotic animals, is misleading and erroneous to the point of being irresponsible. Animals, whether they are native or exotic may develop population surges that may be deleterious to other species or to man. It is not just a quality confined to exotics. Furthermore, the animal is not innately injurious. Its population responds to an environment and usually the environment that produces incongruous population growth, at least in Holarctic Regions, is an environment that has been altered by man, his agriculture and urbanization. It seems to me that if an aviary of exotic birds can be compared to a garden of foreign plants, it may be safe to say that geraniums are as likely to be a pestiferous threat as Red-cheeked Waxbills and fuchsias as dangerous as Cordon Bleu Finches. A law banning the importation of such pleasant animals is as useless and illogical as a restriction upon pansies and petunias.

It would take many pages to discount the fears expressed by the Department of the Interior concerning the dire consequences of importation and I leave the absurdity of the Government's attitude on this to be answered by others. I should remark,

 

however, that the primary introduction of exotic birds has been attempted, energetically but not always successfully, by Government agencies themselves with the inconsistent premise that exotic game species are somehow beneficial. The criterion for value is equated with their desirability as food for hunters. This, it seems, is evidence for a very meager and shallow philosophy of wildlife protection and zoogeographic purity.

The chief problem, or potential problem that confronts the importation of animals is not the possible threat to American wildlife but rather the possible threat to native animal populations in foreign countries. If a growing program of collecting and exporting animals continues indefinitely, some animal populations may be depleted. This proposed legislation does not aim at this potential problem and it destroys a possibility that we in this country may be able to grasp in order to help reduce the drain on the wildlife abroad.

Consider again the history of garden plants. Fortunately, plants such as fuchsias do not have to be imported any more. Amateur and private gardeners have learned to cultivate and develop these beautiful flowers. If fuchsias had to be obtained as wild plants in Chile, one could see that a huge demand could threaten the native fuchsia populations. In other words, by producing the plants in this country, we reduce the demand for wild specimens. And so it is with animals. It is almost exactly the same with animals.

In the long run, helpful legislation aimed at betterment is far superior to bans and restrictions and biased policies that tend to favor one economic interest over another. It seems to me that the breeding of exotic animals, especially birds, should be a program that is aided and enhanced by legislation in view of the beneficial effects on the wildlife of the world. If the intent of this proposed legislation is to destroy or hinder the demand for exotic animals it is obviously on a futile course. Laws cannot tell people not to love and own beautiful and interesting living things. Is it right or proper to outlaw gardens? Can people be told

that they cannot grow petunias? If this analogy seems too remote I suggest it be debated. I for one consider that there is a logical comparison between plant and animal cultivation and that this similarity is particularly apt in the assessment of this proposed legislation.

I therefore propose that breeders of exotic animals, private and public, be recognized and their programs condoned and aided by the Government as a positive program of wildlife conservation. Furthermore, since the depletion of native animal populations may prove serious before adequate breeding programs are instituted in this country, I suggest that the Government begin programs of wildlife conservation in other countries. This may be in the form of a Biological Peace Corps or an Animal Information Group with education as one of its primary objectives. It should also investigate population levels of native animals, especially those that are popular items of export and be in a position to advise local governments on the status of their animal resources. It could possibly condone some form of economic aid to native wildlife collectors and exporters whose professions may be threatened and even subsidize collectors in an effort to reduce their depredations or possibly buy and release rare captive animals. It seems to me that such a positive program is far more advantageous than an unfair, untenable, misinformed and misdirected ban on imports. The money spent on detectives, border guards, customs agents and the like, as well as money saved by not paying inflated fees for birds such as those which have followed the miserable, illogical and impossible quarantine programs against Newcastle disease, could be spent in a more meaningful and imaginative way.

 

 

 


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