Poisoning Indian house crow only way to cull invasive destructive bird

Crow arrived in Kenya in 1947 and has become a serious pest wiping out bird populations

In Summary

• Avicide poison known as Starlicide is The only measure that has proved effective in reducing crow numbers, without affecting other birds, just Starlings and crows. 

• Control measures over 20 years using trapping and  poisoning with Starlicide reduced the population in Zanzibar town by 95% and the island by 75 to 80% .

Indian House Crow that died after poison efficacy tests.
DEAD CROWS: Indian House Crow that died after poison efficacy tests.

Controversy threatens Kenya’s efforts to eliminate the Indian house crow after a group of scientists questioned the expertise of a company licensed to import poison to kill the bird.

On December 1, Little Kenya Gardens, the company licensed to import the poison said the efficacy tests it had carried out showed astounding success.

Cecilia Ruto, owner of the company confided to the Star the efficacy tests of the poison known as Starlicide were done in Ukunda and Diani.

The crows are aggressive; they eat the eggs of all other birds and displace them from their nests.

Dr Winnie Kiiru said said they have been known to wipe out whole populations of birds in countries like Djibouti.

Dr Kiiru is a wildlife biologist with a distinguished career in research, policy, advocacy and wildlife management.

The Indian house crow is a scavenger that also feeds on germinating crops, young chicks, eggs and baby animals.

The crow first arrived in Kenya in 1947 and has since multiplied to become a serious pest at the Coast.

“The efficacy test was very successful; close to 2,000 birds were killed during the exercise,” Ruto told the Star on the phone.

Efficacy trials determine whether an intervention produces the expected results under ideal circumstances.

Through the tests, Little Kenya Gardens and the state wanted to know how effective Starlicide is in confronting the menace of the Indian House Crow.

Ruto is the sole holder of the Pest Control Poisons Board (PCPB) Starlicide Import Permit.

Dr  Kiiru has, however, dismissed the efficacy tests saying if done poorly, the crows will keep cawing and multiplying and might move to other areas.

“Poisoning crows needs huge teams that are well-resourced and very organised. Crows are intelligent and if they realize they are being poisoned they migrate inland en mass and if they get to Nairobi in large numbers that will be the end of birdlife in Kenya because they will be out of control,” she said.

Indian house crows feeds on meat.
FEEDING: Indian house crows feeds on meat.

She said the challenges brought about by the bird were identified 20 years ago and nothing was done about it.

Kiiru said organisations such as Nature Kenya, Birdlife International and the Naivasha-based Wildlife Research and Training Institute (WRTI) should lead the project.

Ruto however dismissed her critics accusing her detractors of trying to cast her work in a bad image.

“There is a lot of fight. At some point, those fighting me were told to support me in whatever I was doing by the former Tourism CS,” Ruto said.

Ruto said people were fighting her because they believe “Africans cannot be trusted with resources.”

She said those trying to pull her down have nothing to show.

“We have an Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) that they do not have,” she said, adding that it took her over three years to get the license.

An environmental impact assessment is a critical examination of the effects of a project on the environment.

It identifies both negative and positive impacts of any development activity or project, and how it affects people, their property and the environment.

The EIA also identifies measures to mitigate the negative impacts, while maximising the positive ones.

If a proper EIA is carried out, then the safety of the environment can be properly managed at all stages of a project— planning, design, construction, operation, monitoring and evaluation as well as decommissioning.

The numbers had been reduced to less than 50 by 2005 but then the use of Starlicide was banned.

Now there are thousands at the Coast and the crow has been sighted as far inland as Emali.

Ruto said the poison, whose origin is in New Zealand, had been delayed as a result of the slowdown due to the outbreak of the Covid-19 pandemic.

Kiiru said they have been feeding the crow with bait that will be used for the efficacy test.

“We have been feeding the crows 150kg of meat each day,” Ruto said.

She  said a kilo of meat goes for around Sh580.

This means that each day, the crow consumed meat worth Sh87,000 and roughly Sh2,610,000 a month and Sh5,220,000 in the first two months.

Ruto said the exercise of feeding them was costly and they had to pause a little bit when the poison was delayed.

When they were informed that poison was in transit, they embarked on feeding the crows with meat.

Ruto said the initial import for efficacy tests was two kilos.

In February this year, Ruto had told the Star that one kilo of the poison cost Sh550,000.

Ruto said during the efficacy tests, officials from the Pest Control Board were present.

“The PSB personnel from Nairobi and the Coast were present before, during and after the exercise,” she said.

Ruto said during the test, no other bird was affected.

“The local community collected the dead birds and they were paid Sh20 per bird. We disposed of the dead birds in a pit at land belonging to the Veterinary Department ," she said, adding that all the necessary precautions were taken.

Ruto said the bait that had remained was also disposed of.

Following the successful efficacy test, Ruto said they now plan to import 100kg of the poison.

Ruto said they are waiting for the government to provide funds for procuring the poison that will be used to kill the crow throughout  the Coast.

“We will have to do proper planning. The stations for baiting will be identified and we might have 10 stations in each county depending on where the crow roosts,” she said.

She said the cost might double owing to the scale of counties to be covered.

Controversy over the importation of the poison peaked last year after it emerged that only one company had an import licence.

Following the controversy, former Tourism CS Najib Balala had given Ruto six months to resolve issues curtailing the importation.

Ruto had been insisting she had worked hard for years to get the license to import the poison as the product is not registered in Kenya.

“It is a very expensive exercise. I have also had to maintain a skeleton staff and offices to avoid Pest Control Board from taking my license,” she had said.

Ruto had said when the Pest Control Board approves her drugs after the efficacy tests, they will be licensed.

Little Kenya Gardens was awarded the monopoly to import Starlicide over three years ago.

Stakeholders were concerned as the crow was multiplying rapidly and causing serious economic damage to the Coast.

On September 22, 2021, the Watamu Association wrote to the outgoing Environment PS Chris Kiptoo complaining that the slow-release poison Starlicide is not available in Kenya.

Starlicide metabolises rapidly over 10 to 12 hours and if a poisoned crow is found dead, it can be eaten safely by a scavenger such as a dog or a vulture.

Starlicide is the only measure that has proved effective in reducing Indian crow numbers.

Control measures over the last 20 years using trapping and carefully supervised poisoning with Starlicide reduced the house crow population in Zanzibar town by 95 per cent and over the whole island by 75 to 80 per cent.

“However, the problem at hand is that only one company, Little Kenya Gardens, has been given the sole rights to import and distribute Starlicide in Kenya,” the association wrote.

The Watamu Association said Little Kenya Gardens has not been active in the crow eradication programme yet it has refused to relinquish its monopoly, even to the Kenya Wildlife Service.

In January 2020, the KWS Board of Trustees approved a “well thought through plan for a National House Crow Eradication Strategy” and that “a comprehensive five-year National House Crow Eradication Programme” was completed in July 2020.

The KWS has an environmental social impact assessment licence for a trial of Starlicide in Kwale, Mombasa and Kilifi.

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