A Ubiquity of Sparrows: Eats like a Bird...
I have been thinking about the impact of bird species fluctuations on the environment, and the effect of removing these opportunistic species. Which led me to Mao Zedong’s 1958 Four Pests campaign, and the deliberate eradication of the Eurasian Tree Sparrow. This has long been considered a contributing factor in one of the world’s worst self-inflicted environmental disasters, leading to China’s famine [1958-1961].
As part of Mao’s Great Leap Forward agricultural campaign, which re-examined farming practices, Mao concluded that there were four pests that required extermination: the fly, mosquito, sparrow and rat. The sparrow’s inclusion on this list was a consequence of calculations which determined that as each sparrow consumed approximately 4.5 Kg of seed per year, every million sparrows exterminated would result in saving enough grain to feed 60,000 people.
For three days, starting December 13, 1958, the entire populace was exhorted to participate in the slaughter of sparrows. Drumming, shouting, beating the trees with long poles, erecting innumerable scarecrows and flags, using slingshots and rifles, birds began to fall out of the sky by the thousands as they succumbed to exhaustion. Millions of sparrows died, with truckloads of dead sparrows being driven around the cities and towns to demonstrate the efficacy of the campaign. Unfortunately, by the time that China’s Academy of Sciences produced a report on how many insects (such as locusts, a favorite food of the sparrow) the birds ate compared to how much seed, which demonstrated that the killing of sparrows was highly counter-productive, it was too late. The ensuing proliferation of locusts and other insects caused massive crop failures, and led to the deaths of between 30 and 45 million people.
I am immersed in reading about the Great Leap Forward at the moment, trying to grasp how something so catastrophic could happen.
Drumming, shouting, beating the trees with long poles, erecting innumerable scarecrows and flags, using slingshots and rifles, birds began to fall out of the sky by the thousands as they succumbed to exhaustion.