Staten Island Turkey Cull Halted as Birds Sent to a Sanctuary
OCEAN BREEZE — Now, the only thing they have to worry about is Thanksgiving.
Nearly a month after the U.S. Department of Agriculture began to round up turkeys living on the grounds of the South Beach Psychiatric Center in Ocean Breeze for slaughter, sparking a public outcry, officials have changed course and sent the remaining fowl to an animal sanctuary.
The USDA and Department of Environmental Conservation sent approximately 28 of the 80 birds that lived on the grounds to the Catskill Animal Sanctuary on Saturday, the Staten Island Advance originally reported.
"Taking animals who are at risk and saying to them 'you are loved, this is your home, you never have to worry again,' is the greatest joy of my life," said Kathy Stevens, founder of the Catskill Animal Sanctuary. "It feels wonderful."
Stevens said the turkeys would need some time to adjust to their new life away from Staten Island.
"They didn't seem to understand what sunflower seeds and corn were," she said. "They'd been eating peanut butter and jelly sandwiches for so long."
An estimated 45 turkeys still remain on the hospital grounds, advocates said. They are expected to be relocated by the end of the month, and other animal sanctuaries willing to take them are being sought, organizers said.
Neither the USDA nor the DEC returned calls for comment.
Animal activists and politicians had launched a 24-hour watch of the remaining birds in an attempt to protect them, after officials moved in to cull the 80 turkeys after psychiatric center staff complained of unsanitary conditions on the Seaview Avenue property.
They praised the change of heart on Monday.
"I feel relieved and satisfied by the decisions that were made to bring some of the turkeys that were not slaughtered to a sanctuary," said David Karpokin of GooseWatch NYC, which raised $10,000 to build a barn at the sanctuary for the birds to live in.
GooseWatch NYC and the Humane Society of United States spent weeks negotiating with officials at the DEC, which ultimately ruled the turkeys couldn't be released into the wild.
While the DEC only publicly said they couldn't relocate the flock because it contained "hybrids" — wild turkeys that had bred with domestic turkeys — emails obtained from a FOIL request by GooseWatch NYC outlined several other concerns.
"There are also concerns about moving nuisance animals from one location to another (i.e., transferring the problem from someone on Staten Island's backyard to someone else's backyard) and concerns about disease transmission," an email from DEC, and seen by DNAinfo New York, said.
"Lastly, these birds, even the birds that look like wild turkeys, are tame and accustomed to handouts from people. They are not fit for survival in a more rural setting."
According to DEC records, the large flock started to form in 2000 after nine captive-bred turkeys were released onto the grounds. Since then, the descendants and other illegally released turkeys and chickens have boosted their numbers.
The DEC originally looked at starting to remove the turkeys in 2007, but the project was put off until the psychiatric center began to complain about the birds in August.
Despite complaints of aggressiveness, Stevens said the turkeys were perfect guests.
"They're timid," she said. "It won't be long before they understand we're not a threat and we're friends."