(Photo by George McLean)
Mount Auburn Cemetery is known as a sanctuary for wildlife just steps from the bustle of Cambridge and Watertown, but after a wild turkey charged after baby strollers and then attacked an employee, the cemetery called in the police.
Now cemetery officials are trying to explain to wildlife enthusiasts why a tom turkey was shot and killed by an environmental police officer earlier this month, and explain the circumstances around another wild turkey that was found dead at the cemetery in Cambridge last weekend.
“I just can’t understand this,” said wildlife photographer George McLean, who snapped a photo of the now-deceased turkey, called Longfellow, before he was shot. “It wasn’t necessary.”
The large tom turkey that was shot had shown repeated aggressive behavior that culminated with an attack that sent an employee to the hospital on May 14, said Bree Harvey, vice president of external affairs for Mount Auburn Cemetery. The cause of death for the second turkey remains unknown.
“This is definitely not what we wanted to happen,” Harvey said.
The death of the turkeys has started a “firestorm” of emails and in some cases accusations that the cemetery was to blame for the death of both birds, said Harvey. Mount Auburn Cemetery officials have drafted a letter to send to the birding community in an effort to address the concerns.
McLean, the 77-year-old wildlife photographer who also volunteers at the cemetery, said he was shocked to learn that “Longfellow” had been shot and killed instead of being trapped and taken elsewhere. McLean said he’s been approached by an aggressive turkey before and easily shooed it away by spraying a canister of fox urine.
But Harvey said Massachusetts Environmental Police decided to shoot the turkey after cemetery officials grappled for several months over what to do about aggressive turkeys on the grounds.
Since the winter, Harvery said visitors to the cemetery have complained of turkeys chasing them, pecking at them, and even going after baby strollers. Security guards at the cemetery have repeatedly been called because visitors felt threatened by the birds and needed assistance getting back to their vehicles, Harvey said.
At first, Harvey said cemetery officials attributed the behavior to the mating season, but the problems have persisted this spring.
Concerned about the safety of a number of elderly people who come to Mount Auburn Cemetery to visit gravesites, Harvey said the cemetery began consulting with the Mass Audubon and the state Division of Fisheries and Wildlife about what needed to be done about the aggressive birds.
“We are a wildlife sanctuary, yes, and we don’t want anything drastic to happen to anything that is calling Mount Auburn home,” Harvey said.
“However, we also feel a responsibility to protect all of our visitors.”
Harvey, who said she is 5-feet-8 inches tall, said the aggressive tom turkey’s head came up to her chest and he had come after her before, as well. She said she was able to flee to a vehicle and escape.
“It was coming at me and it was going to attack me,” she said.
But on May 14 a cemetery employee who had just had knee surgery came across the big bird, and when it became aggressive he tried to back away. The employee tripped, fell backwards and the turkey jumped on him and scratched him, said Harvey. The employee hurt his knee in the fall and was taken to the hospital, she said.
Massachusetts Environmental Police were called in and decided to shoot the turkey that day, Harvey said.
The bird was killed because it had attacked the employee and had been “very aggressive” with other people passing by, said Reginald Zimmerman, a spokesman for the state Executive Office Energy and Environmental Affairs, which oversees the state Environmental Police and the Massachusetts Division of Fisheries and Wildlife.
“Wild turkeys are usually put down when they present a public safety risk,” Zimmerman said Friday.
Zimmerman said the state has seen many cases of aggressive turkeys, and they typically involve male birds who are very territorial. He said the reports of aggressive turkeys going after baby carriages at the cemetery were a real concern.
Harvey said cemetery officials aren’t sure what happened to the second turkey that was found dead on a road in the cemetery last weekend. She said the bird showed no signs of trauma, and was not killed by state Environmental Police. She said 14 turkey eggs have recently hatched at the cemetery, but only four of the chicks remain. Harvey said she suspects the missing baby turkeys have become victims to predators such as coyotes and foxes on the cemetery grounds.
Mount Auburn Cemetery has no plans to do anything to the other turkeys living on the property, she said.
“We’re hoping that this situation won’t repeat itself,” she said.