OCEAN BREEZE — A group of Staten Islanders is planning a round-the-clock watch in an attempt to halt a cull of “aggressive” turkeys living on the grounds of a Staten Island psychiatric center.
Since 6 a.m. Thursday, residents have kept watch outside South Beach Psychiatric Center to see if the U.S. Department of Agriculture workers cart any turkeys off to the slaughterhouse.
On Monday, the USDA started to round up the nearly 80 turkeys which live on the grounds after psychiatric center staff complained of aggressiveness towards workers, visitors and patients. Critics are also upset by turkey poop around the grounds and traffic problems.
With some people watching from their cars and others from nearby homes, and a phone relay system in case the USDA comes back, residents plan to keep a close eye on the birds.
“We’re just trying to keep this from happening,” said Elisa DiSimone, an environmentalist who helped organize the watch. “We're really trying save this piece of Staten Island history.”
DiSimone said the guardians haven't seen the USDA return since Tuesday, and around 20 people gathered to keep watch early Thursday.
On Wednesday, nearly 50 residents protested outside the gates of the center to try and save the birds. They asked that the USDA relocate the ones they’ve already captured, and an online petition to save them had nearly 3,000 signatures by Thursday.
DiSimone said they already have three animal sanctuaries willing to take in all of the turkeys.
The USDA said the flock contained some hybrid birds — domestic turkeys which bred with wild turkeys — and the state's Department of Environmental Conservation said they couldn’t be relocated for that reason.
The DEC did not respond to requests for comments on why they couldn’t relocate them.
If deemed safe for humans to eat, the meat from the captured turkeys will be given to a local charity, the USDA said.
But for DiSimone and others keeping watch, the turkeys are a chance to preserve wildlife in the borough.
“This is our island, we are proud of our wildlife,” she said.
“It has to stop and if we don't do it who would do it? It's our responsibility, it's our island.”