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How Curonian Spit cormorants trick their two-legged guards

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Linas Jegelevičius for the BNN

Ugly and nasty cormorants, once on the most protected species list, but now a scourge on the otherwise amazing Lithuania’s Curonian Spit, squeezed in between the Baltic Sea and the Curonian Lagoon, have cheated environmentalists – and the bird exterminators- again.

It appears that money doled out for depopulation of the destructive birds might not be used this year just because a Lithuanian Environment Ministry’s flunky has not put in order on time all the paperwork necessary to proceed with the respective tender-pick up winner for the kill-job. «That this kind of tender is late does not surprise me much. It happens the same nearly every year,» Viktoras Valceris, a junior elder of a district in Juodkrantė, a resort settlement on the Curonian Spit, told BNN.

Cormorants rival with fishermen

With tender again late, the residents of the picturesque strip, increasingly suffering from the birds, fear that cormorants will hatch their chicks before the exterminators arrive. Should it happen the new-born cannot be killed according to the European Union’s regulation.

As many as 5400 cormorants were drawn into registry last year, but the real number of the obnoxious, nasty and surroundings-besmearing birds is thought to be at least twice larger.

As no other species they are also loathed by local fishermen who simply cannot compete with the voracious birds at sea.

It is estimated cormorants gorge down over 500 tons of fish every year, most of which is minnow.

As the fight against cormorants’ ballooning population produces a little tangible effect, the environmentalists fear the problem can spin out of managed control to new swaths of the Curonian Spit.

«Well, this is quite possible. I believe that, without a proper control, the cormorant population with the speed of expansion will start threatening the settlement’s households in about 10 years. In fact, with a plain eye one can tell that cormorants are getting deeper into the forest every year,»Valceris predicted.

He noted though that the whole issue tends to be slightly exaggerated in media: «You cannot blame only cormorants for a bad fishing trip. But local fishermen do precisely this.»

He says local green organizations tend to rake in EU money for cormorant population research and control, but the elder says it is often «waste of money» and it splinters the public’s mistrust in the officials’ intentions.

Shooting as a last option

Darius Jasaitis, the mayor of Neringa, the posh resort on the strip, says tender aimed to reduce the cormorant population is under the way, but to complete the whole procedures, he noted, may take up to three weeks, which will be just too late- the rapacious chick will be out of the eggshell by then.

«The nature is awakening, local ornithologists have already noticed hatching cormorants. When the chicks are out, it will be too late to freeze the nests- this is done applyinga chemical agent from special hoses- or shoo away the parents from the nests. Then only shooting (the birds) might help. I reckon such a measure is more human than torturing hatched chicks and subject them to death from hunger,» Jasaitis told delfi.lt, a Lithuanian news site.

He, however, braved that humans can win war against the birds.

Conjures apocalyptic scene

Curonian Spit’s National Park biologist Jurate Zarankaite, seen as a savant on the cormorants’ habits, meanwhile, conjured up a more apocalyptic picture.

«With offspring out, those colourful air balloons and petards rounds targeting the adult birds will do the job, but the young chicks, left alone, will get agitated when hungry and will try to crawl out of the nests, simply falling down. The forest will be littered with tons of their carrion,» she warns.

Does it sound too unrealistic?

The environmentalists argue that is exactly what will happen with action being taken a single day belatedly.

Who whenever took a bike ride or drove by can share the stories of the stench lingering while passing through the cormorant colony.

Imagine the foul smell with thousand birds dead!

And, more importantly, the word on it is out. Who would want to get over to the Curonian Strip for a weekend?

Measures too belated

The Ministry had planned to exterminate half of the omnivorous birds this season and leave them less than 2,300 in Juodkrante, a settlement in the Curonian Spit, and bare 200-300 birds in Rusne.

But Zarankaite insists, because of the procrastination, Ministry officials have failed with the plan.

Vilmantas Graičiūnas, the head of Nature Protection Division at the Environment Ministry, concurs, saying the authorities have scrambled «too late» this year to wage war against the undesirable species.

He noted that Russians in the Kaliningrad region, also priding in part of the Curonian Spit, have long conceded in the battle.

«The local population over the border is being helped by Russian military. Military helicopters would hover above the nests and trigger massive whirlwinds with the help of blades. But the cormorants, thrown out of the nests, would scramble to make new nests, even more intensively,» he noted.

European Union’s stringent rules

But, ironically, the detested bird is protected by a set of environmental rules. The latter method in fighting the nasty birds is prohibited by the European Union. It also stands behind the decision that, for example, little chicks cannot be targeted and, weirdly to many, the grown-ups cannot be shot with the temperatures over 9 degrees.

As the tender results won’t be out until May 9 at least, the Lithuanian seaside cormorants might soon start celebrating over their watchdogs.

Interestingly, cormorants had been in the so-called Red Book, a catalogue enrolling endangered species, but with the birds’ omnipresence and voraciousness, the kind was removed from the list.

Hunter hunted down a jackal

Meanwhile, in the Šakiai region in south-western Lithuanian, local hunters have nabbed a jackal, a canine mammal that has never yet been spotted in Lithuanian forests.

Looking like miniature wolves, jackals have a reputation for cunning and intelligence that is probably deserved. They don’t all act the same way, though, and the three different species show some marked differences, especially with regards to behavior.

Three kinds of jackals- golden jackals (Canis aureus), black-backed jackals (Canis mesomelas) side- striped jackals (Canis adustus) are known – the hunted down canine mammal belongs to the former kind.

If jackals spread, a really big damage to the local fauna can be done, insist Lithuanian environmentalists.

To prevent that from happening, the Environment Ministry is scrambling to pass necessary amendments to the nature protection legislation that would enable local hunters to chase down the invasive species.

Lithuania needs to follow neighbours’ example

«We really would like to turn the lucky hunter’s prey in to a stuffed animal. Our museum is known for taxidermy works,» said Vaclovas Gedminas, a senior officer at Kaunas’ Tadas Ivanauskas Zoology Museum.

He says an invasive species can spread very fast and far, making a huge damage to the local fauna and population.

«Look, raccoons which appeared in Lithuania 40 years ago have penetrated north deep. Jackals likely migrate northward for in search for new feeding territories. If they start breeding with our wolves, it bodes nothing good,» the scholar noted.

It is believed that the killed jackal has strayed into Lithuania from Belarus over the border.

Jackals have been hunted in Estonia and Latvia for quite some time now and the Lithuanian Environment Ministry officials hasten to include the invasive species in the prey list of animals.

Ref: 020/111.111.111.1410


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