by Whit Gibbons

February 17, 2003

Who could possibly put down an article with a headline that read, "Students jailed in goose killing"? Not I, so I read on to see what the article in the Charlotte Observer had to say. At first I thought it might be a new humor column. It was not.

Apparently five fraternity boys in Davidson, North Carolina, went to a local park that I assume had a lake. One of them dropped some bread crumbs on the ground to lure a goose within striking distance of a five iron (or maybe it was a putter or a driver). But whatever the case, the unsuspecting goose was knocked senseless with a golf club and put in the trunk of the car. Meanwhile, the equally unsuspecting carload of goose killers failed to see that a passerby was watching this unstylish Monte Python skit and took down their tag number. The story took a true Law and Order turn when the "perps" were arrested and the "vic" was found dead in the trunk.

From some of the information I later read and heard you would think this goose killing rivaled the St. Valentine's Day Massacre. First off, I have to wonder about a judge who would put a $20,000 bond on a college student for killing a goose. A nasty case of unjustifiable destruction it was. But $20,000! Good grief, was this really a goose that laid some kind of golden eggs?

A statement released by Davidson College said that the students' actions were "both repugnant and senseless" and that an investigation of the incident was under way by the Davidson College Campus Police. Also, the dean of students at the college "will determine what actions will be taken pursuant to the college's Code of Responsibility." I do not disagree with most of these statements and positions, but I take issue with the idea that killing a goose (especially an introduced, nonnative species) should be any worse than some of the actions people take against native wildlife. Understand, now, I'm not condoning killing geese in public parks with golf clubs, even during hunting or golf season, but let's put the incident in perspective.

One of the town commissioners went on record as saying that people were "stunned" by the incident. Again, we should not deride someone for feeling emotional about an animal getting killed or being angered by outright vandalism. But do you suppose that commissioner would be stunned to know that on that same night more than a dozen raccoons, possums, skunks, and foxes probably were run down and killed on highways that the commission had approved over the last decade? And what about the sanctioned loss of small wetlands that has resulted in the untimely deaths of millions of amphibians, reptiles, and small mammals? And would Davidson College issue a statement about the "repugnant and senseless" killing of a harmless kingsnake or rat snake on campus?

The point is that this goose should not get any more sympathy than the native wildlife that suffer horrible deaths every day and night in that region--and every other region of the country. Especially when some of their deaths are because of decisions made by some of the same people who are whooping and hollering about a single dead goose.

People everywhere should consider the importance of protecting natural habitats and the wildlife that inhabit them. Killing the goose was a dumb thing to do. But destroying wildlife in many other ways is even dumber. One goose is trivial compared to the daily losses to our native wildlife populations from other causes; yet most people pay no attention to that slaughter. If court time and public taxes are to be spent on prosecuting the five goose killers, I hope that on the same docket will be the people in the area who have destroyed wetlands, built unnecessary highways, and intentionally killed harmless snakes. I don't mind if a goose becomes the symbol for a community's stand against insensitive attitudes toward wildlife. I do mind if people are upset simply because it was a goose instead of something else.

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