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Group claims rat poison
is killing Golden Gate Park wildlife

By Brent Begin, Bay City News Service

March 16, 2007

SAN FRANCISCO (BCN) - A San Francisco wildlife rehabilitation group plans to release a red-shouldered hawk into the wild this morning following a six-week recovery from what they believe is the secondhand ingestion of rat poison.

The hawk was lucky to survive, according to Jamie Ray with the Rescued Orphan Mammal Program (ROMP), who claims that two hawks and a fox have been found dead near rodent bait boxes in Golden Gate Park's botanical garden.

Ray also said that a third hawk was found dead this week across the street from the Japanese Tea Garden.

But Rose Dennis, spokeswoman for the San Francisco Recreation and Park Department, disputes these reports.

"We had an incident six months ago, which we suspected that poison might have played a role," Dennis said. "The raptor survived, and I don't know of any other cases."

Both agree that the birds of prey are not feeding on the bait traps. Ray said that rats eat the poison but it takes around five days to work. When hawks eat the rats, however, the poison may still take effect, a process called secondary ingestion.

Ray said that poison began affecting wildlife in December 2005 when it was first placed around a plant nursery in the park. The parks department has removed and replaced the poison intermittently since, and ROMP believes that practice coincides with the sickness of the animals.

Dennis defends the use of poison because of another problem affecting the city: rats.

"We, like everybody else in San Francisco, are dealing with rodent problems, whether they want to admit it or not," Dennis said. "San Francisco recreation and park is no exception."

She said that rodents are especially bothersome near commercial areas like Ninth Avenue and Lincoln Street, where restaurant trash makes for a rodent feast. Rats can then retreat into the nearby botanical garden.

"We have a duty to the people and to other species to do what we can to mitigate the reproduction and spread of the disease spread by rats," Dennis said.

The Recreation and Park Department uses the poison because it is so mild, said Dennis, who points to the amount of time it takes for a rat to die of the anti-coagulant.

"We're using what's considered a best practice in the industry," she added. "If there's a better idea, we're all ears."

Ray suggests writing the department, as well as the state Department of Fish and Game and the federal Environmental Protection Agency to lobby government to ban the poison.

ROMP worked to save the hawk, which will be released today at 11:30 a.m. in front of Golden Gate Park's botanical garden, through the services of another bird rescue organization in San Rafael called Wildcare.

The bird underwent several poison treatment processes before being cleared for release.

The parks department thanked both organizations for their efforts.

"We're indebted to Miss Ray for saving this hawk," Dennis said.

Copyright © 2007 by Bay City News, Inc. -- Republication, Rebroadcast or any other Reuse without the express written consent of Bay City News, Inc. is prohibited.




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