They were members of our community for months, living here peacefully among neighbors and friends. Some considered them a friendly face, a unique member of the neighborhood, and unfortunately, a pet.
The turkeys arrived here in the winter of 2010 as a new breed of wildlife to Monmouth County. Many fed these turkeys food to help them survive, only trying to help Mother Nature along. But this ultimately led to their downfall.
Although they were loved by many, some considered them a nuisance as these animals looked for people to continually feed them. They repeatedly returned to the backyards of many in Rumson and Fair Haven, including my own. Now, they have been removed and taken to an area in Freehold. A chance to live in the wild seems like a great opportunity, but now, they are in a fight for survival as the domestic animals struggle to understand that hunters are not their friends.
On January 4, the Division of Fish and Wildlife moved the wild turkeys to a wildlife area in Upper Freehold for a chance to live freely. Several members of the Fair Haven community had called Kim Tinnes of the division to complain about the wild turkeys that were bothering the neighborhood. Tinnes says this is a common occurrence as once wild animals rely on people for food, they lose the ability to obtain it for themselves and will constantly return to these sources of nourishment. Neighbors like Kathleen Hendrick alerted this division as she had seen the turkeys in her backyard and was worried for their well-being.
By treating the animals as pets, many domesticated the turkeys unintentionally. Pastor Robert J.W. Schecker of Nativity Church faithfully fed these turkeys daily as they appeared whenever the church bells rang. They became members of the congregation and even appeared on the church website. They mainly lived between the Nativity Church and Congregation B’nai Israel across the street, which is how the turkeys became known as “Judeo-Christian” turkeys.
However, many became worried for the turkeys when one was run over and another disappeared from the group of seven. Many thought that where the turkeys would be brought to live would be safer as Tinnes had contacted the Popcorn Park Zoo in Forked River, an animal rescue and wildlife sanctuary and refuge where sick, abused, or homeless wild animals are allowed to roam freely. However, Tinnes disagreed with the life of animals in cages in zoos. Now, the turkeys are in a wildlife area, which some consider more dangerous than their previous home of Rumson and Fair Haven.
I am also against the turkeys’ move to Freehold because even though the streets of Rumson and Fair Haven are a dangerous place for turkeys, community members here ultimately had their best interest in heart. To transport the now domestic turkeys to an area where they can be shot by people, which the turkeys have previously considered their “friends,” is not only inhumane but also cruel.
Popcorn Park Zoo is not a typical zoo with cages, which Tinnes could have learned from John Bergman, the representative who Tinnes contacted, if she actually cared about these turkeys. I would agree with Tinnes that feeding wild animals is not a good idea, but as the turkeys had also appeared in my backyard, I can comprehend the desire to help these creatures. But even if the community’s actions were incorrect, why should the turkeys be punished for a mistake that they had no control over? Why do the turkeys deserve to live in an area with hunters, those that the turkeys will mistakenly trust? Why should the turkeys be blamed for our mistakes?
As the turkeys fight to live as unforgiving hunters attack the naïve turkeys, we must all remember the true victims in this. The turkeys that lost their home. The turkeys that were unjustly brought to a wildlife area with hunters, whose purpose is to kill. The turkeys that thought humans were there friends and not the killers that can soon end their lives.