If you thought 2020 couldn’t get any more strange, meet Gerald, a tenacious turkey whose aggressive attacks on people have shut down a popular garden in Oakland and terrorized the surrounding Grand Lake neighborhood.
“He was relentless,” one victim posted on Nextdoor, which is filled with both complaints and defenses of Gerald. “My fiance barely warded him off with a stick. People in the park yelled at me to ‘hold my ground.’ He was stalking me, and I swear I was getting flashbacks to the velociraptor scenes in ‘Jurassic Park.’”
The city shut down the park in May and tried to put some space between the turkey and irate residents. It even tried to “retrain” Gerald to stop attacking people. Then in late July, the city, which had finally received permission from the state to trap and relocate Gerald to a less urban part of the area, began trying to trap the troublesome tom. So far, Gerald has shown the abilities of Houdini in escaping any traps, and the park remains closed.
“He’s still there,” said Ann Dunn, director of Oakland Animal Services. “A Department of Fish and Wildlife officer tried to trap him and couldn’t, so he gave up.”
Animal Control officers are now trying their hand at grabbing the gobbler, who will be heading to a rather nice place when caught, Dunn said — a wilderness area with lots of other turkeys and no humans. Gerald also has mellowed, Dunn says, although he now has a history as a bully and needs to go.
Gerald had peacefully co-existed with neighbors for some time before turning into Public Enemy No. 1. Residents said he often joined a line of casual carpoolers waiting for a ride, although Gerald never commuted from his home in Morcom Rose Garden, an 8-acre municipal rose garden planted in 1932 that has more than 2,500 rose bushes.
In the past few months, however, Gerald has turned from quirky garden denizen to the stuff of a post-Thanksgiving feast nightmare, a 25-pound ball of rage chasing children and old women and injuring several. The city’s Animal Control division has received so many complaints, it closed the garden to visitors while it works with the California Department of Fish and Wildlife to determine what happens to Gerald.
Gerald isn’t the only fowl raising a ruckus. Residents of another Oakland neighborhood are divided over Abraham (aka John, aka Peter, aka Expletive), a peacock that has moved into the area and whose otherworldly cries and screeches have some people on edge and demanding the city do something. So far, the city has deferred.
Officials and residents have their theories on what turned Gerald from fowl to foul. Some blame a resident who has been feeding Gerald, as well as fox squirrels and skunks. Feeding wildlife is prohibited by state law for a number of reasons, including that doing so creates these sorts of conditions, as wild animals lose their fear of humans and come to expect everyone they meet to fork over food.
Others say Gerald is just trying to protect his mate and poults, who also have been seen strutting around the park. Some of Gerald’s defenders have told wildlife officials that people are bringing their dogs in the park, which is not allowed, and have set up an antagonistic environment.
Some theorize that the garden at 700 Jean St., has been used more than usual as people sheltering in place during the coronavirus pandemic have escaped the confines of their homes to enjoy the nature of the garden. All the people, they say, have pushed Gerald into hyper protective mode.
“It was kind of a perfect storm,” Dunn said.
Gerald’s victims say they didn’t do anything to warrant the attacks, many saying they weren’t near Gerald’s territory when the bird attacked them, an allegation backed up by the “Resident Rosarian,” who posted on the garden’s Facebook page about the many attacks he had witnessed when the victim was doing nothing to antagonize Gerald.
“In many cases,” he wrote, “I was able to rush over to help the victim. Most were in shock, very frightened and sometimes in pain from pecks and scratches, their clothing torn. Imagine an elderly man or woman being blindsided by a 25-pound turkey with a very sharp beak or the screams of an attacked child or a woman sitting alone on a hillside on a quiet day when the tom, from approximately a half football field away, suddenly runs towards her and viciously attacks.”
Victims have described the turkey charging at them, jumping on their backs, scratching them with his talons and pecking them as they fled in terror.
Although some residents have had fun with the idea of a turkey thug, posting “wanted signs” and offering rewards of $2 a pound, Gerald was facing a serious threat.
Some people have grown restless as they wait for Gerald to be dealt with. One resident repeatedly threatened to kill Gerald and made a few attempts on his life. The city warned that if the situation didn’t resolve itself, it might have to euthanize the turkey.
For now, however, it’s Gerald 1, the City 0.
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Author: Joan Morris