News - June 9, 2011

Geese: shoot them, gas them, or leave them to the foxes?

Joris Tielens

Nature conservationists and farmers recently reached a remarkable agreement on how to approach the problem of the summer geese in the Netherlands. Initially, hunters were involved as well, but they have now said 'no thanks' to the job of culling the flocks. So who will have to shoot the geese and what will they do with them all?

Johan Verbon
Chef at the Restaurant of the Future
'Geese can certainly be put on the menu. They do require special preparation, you cannot just cook them as you would a chicken leg. Because they have put in so many flying hours, the meat is quite tough, so you need to let it stew quite a long time. It is nice with fresh cherries, which are about to come into season. Goose is not eaten much in the Netherlands, although a good poultry butcher stocks it at Christmas. I think it would be a shame to just throw away the geese that are shot, if you don't want to waste natural resources. So I'd like to put it on the menu.'
Marlies Kolthof
Spokesperson for the  Royal Dutch Hunters' Association

'We dropped out of the Geese agreement because it is just not feasible. To shoot 125 to 150 thousand geese in the short period between July and November is impossible for the hunters, who are volunteers. At the moment, a farmer will ask a hunter to shoot a few geese if there are too many. Now, these volunteer hunters would have to be going out every day to achieve those numbers. One solution would be to round up some of the animals when they are moulting, catch them and gas them. There are companies that specialize in doing this. The geese should be shot by certified hunters. But then they could only be shot in the winter.'
Marieke Dijksman
Spokesperson Society for the Protection of Birds
'We cannot agree to the shooting of the winter geese as well. We have started negotiating because we have been opposing the killing of geese unsuccessfully for years. The upshot of the negotiations is that more greylag geese will be shot to reduce the nuisance factor, but that no more geese may be shot in the winter months. That is important to us, because migrating geese overwinter in this country. We have an international responsibility to protect these animals.'

Arie den Hertog
Owner Duke Fauna Management
'In the period when geese moult, they cannot fly. Then two of three of us quietly drive them into a meadow. They walk into a big cage, 600 of them at a time. That is much quieter and causes less disturbance to other animals than shooting. Anyway, you couldn't shoot that many animals. The animals we catch will be transported in cattle trailers and gassed with CO 2 at our premises. Research by Wageningen UR has shown that this is the best method. And I will deliver the meat to poultry butchers free.'

Marien Gerritzen
Researcher at Wageningen UR Livestock Research
'At the request of the ministry, we have studied the heartbeat and brain activity of geese during gassing. The conclusion is that, if you do decide to kill geese, this is an acceptable method. The geese are dead in one minute. But for opponents, that is one minute too many of suffering. And the idea raises a lot of opposition. The advantage of the method over hunting is a question of capacity. And when you hunt them, animals are sometimes only wounded and not killed.'
Rudy Jonker
PhD researcher at the Resource Ecology chair group
'It is pointless either to hunt or to catch the geese. There are so many geese that if you remove them from an area, there will be more there the next day. The problem is that predators are shot and poached in Europe on a large scale. It is strange to do that and then to start shooting geese - it means you've got things the wrong way round. Geese are not an ecological problem, since studies have shown that field birds are not bothered by them as has been claimed. It is a social problem because farmers incur losses due to the grazing of the geese. But I think you have to recognize that farmers work within a natural system, and that there will always be a limiting factor somewhere along the line.'
Frank Lenssinck
Researcher at experimental dairy farm Zegveld, part of Wageningen UR

'It is good to restore the natural balance and reduce the number of geese in the Netherlands. At the farm we are not bothered by geese because we have a good hunter. He is retired and he spends a lot of time on it. But many other hunters have less time. And it is strange to require hunters to reach a certain target: they are not used to working like that. I do think that hunters will start shooting geese shortly, only on different terms. If they had gone along with this agreement straightaway, people would probably have thought, 'See, you want to shoot them.'
Kees Straates
MSc student of Forest and Nature Management

'The goose has too few natural enemies in the Netherlands. That is because of the way we have organized nature in the Netherlands: as a park where some species are allowed access to some places but not others. Too many foxes are shot, whereas foxes are the natural enemies of geese. We should have set up Dutch nature areas in a more natural way. Then we would have to learn to live with a fox getting into a chicken run now and then, but we would not have to shoot so many geese.
I do see that something has got to be done, but I don't like the idea of gassing geese. It is strange, after all, to cull perfectly healthy animals, because they do not fit into our idea of nature or landscape use.'