A gargantuan gaggle of Auckland’s most feared waterfowl have been served an eviction notice. But where are they really going? Alice Neville investigates.
“A nice farm up north.” We all know a problematic animal who’s been subject to that euphemistic fate. A bitey dog, a skittish goat, a rabid rabbit (shout-out to my childhood pet bunny, who was a genuine psychopath).
The latest cretinous critters to get the “sent-to-a-farm” treatment are the Western Springs geese, those feathered fiends that have been terrorising Auckland park-goers since time immemorial (or at least a good 30 years or so).
In the past few months, however, the situation has become critical. We are approaching the goosepocalypse. After a recent visit, Spinoff boss Duncan Greive described an Orwellian scene in which feral fowl ruled the roost, laughing in the face of any futile human attempt to control nature. “They’re a freaky gang wandering around hissing at everyone!” he spluttered. “It’s more geese than park!”
On Friday, Auckland City Council announced that 140 of the 160 or so geese to whom the park is home would be “getting a helping hand to migrate to warmer climes in the north”.
No more details were given in the press release, and the subsequent RNZ article did not shed any further light. Given that in July the council was considering culling the geese, is it any wonder my suspicions were raised?
But council media comms person Tarannum Shaikh assured me that no, the wicked waterfowl are not headed to the big farm in the sky. They’re destined for two large lifestyle blocks north of Auckland, one of which is taking 100 geese, one 40, where they’ll live out their days in rural bliss. The owners of said properties aren’t keen on publicity so no further details were divulged.
So how has it got to this point, and why can’t we just relinquish the park to the geese and their avian comrades (sex-pest Mallard ducks, predatory pūkeko and the like) to roam wild and free, unperturbed by human interference?
Well, there are just too many of the buggers, essentially. The number of geese the park can sustain is 20, says the council. But geese are strong independent birds who can be controlled by no human, so goose upon goose upon gander kept turning up on its own accord, copulating and reproducing.
The current gaggle competes with native waterfowl – each greedy goose eats about 3kg of green matter a day – and fouls the environment (1.3kg of poo a day, per goose). All those faeces mean the water quality of the lake, which has cultural and historical significance as a mahinga kai for Māori (Te Wai Ōrea, the Māori name for Western Springs, means ‘waters of the longfin eel’), is terrible.
So the goosies’ goose is cooked. Which brings us to the elephant (or, um, giant prehistoric goose, perhaps) in the room. Sure, retirement at a lifestyle block sounds nice and all, but you know what else we could do? Eat them.
Christmas is less than a month away and for centuries goose was the poultry of choice for a festive centrepiece. It’s only in recent decades that that gobbling upstart the turkey has stolen old goosie mate’s thunder, but in the last few years they’ve been making a comeback in the UK.
I asked Shaikh if eating them had been considered, and she said the answer was “almost definitely a no”, but she’d make some inquiries. “Please don’t make them part of your Thanksgiving/Christmas meal feature!” (Having food editor in my email signature had probably raised suspicions.) Subsequent to publication, Council got in touch say that while requests were made to consider the geese as “a food source to specialist restaurants, we declined this idea. Additionally, as the birds have not been raised for their meat, they wouldn’t comply with the standards set by Ministry for Primary Industries, which governs the sale and supply of meat.”
Still, think of all the traumatised Aucklanders who have suffered at the hands (wings/beaks/webbed feet, perhaps) of these brutal beasts who could take heart in the knowledge that their dark, rich, gamey meat was being consumed. “They’re evil buggers and someone should roast them,” commented one victim, a lifelong vegetarian who has never recovered from a chilling childhood run-in with snappy beaks and flapping wings. Revenge is a dish best served honey-glazed, spiced and roasted, after all.
Too harsh? Although inarguably terrifying (they have teeth on their tongues FFS), geese are actually quite cool. They’re super loyal, utterly devoted to their partners and children. “When a goose’s mate is killed, he or she will mourn in seclusion. After a partner dies, some geese spend the rest of their lives as widows or widowers, refusing to mate again.” I’m crying. Would 100% swipe right on a gander.
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The fact they’re fucking psychos has its upsides too: guard geese have been effectively used since ancient times.
Because seriously, who would mess with this?
But the council appears to have made its decision. A pen is being assembled in the park so the geese can get used to it – to lull them into a false sense of security, perhaps, that it’s just a nifty new piece of furniture for their enjoyment – before BOOM, they will be corralled into it and trucked up north by mid December. Godspeed, you feathered freaks, godspeed.
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