Gerald the turkey removed from Rose Garden

Helen Stavropoulos Sandoval

A flyer posted on Oakland Ave. near Grand.

The two special operatives arrived on the morning of October 22. The initial plan was to capture the target using a net gun. However, the gun misfired and the target was startled and alerted. As one operative went back to the vehicle to acquire a second cartridge for the gun, the other got the attention of the target. Disguised as a civilian in peril, the agent tricked the target by hunching down, appearing feeble, saying, “Get away,” in a frail voice.

The target advanced. When it was in range, Rebecca Dmytryk reached out and grabbed Gerald the turkey by the scruff of the neck. A year-long ordeal was finally at an end.

Gerald the turkey had lived at Morcom Rose Garden in Oakland for several years. But this year, he had turned aggressive. He had taken to chasing some park visitors and was accused of attacking one in the doorway of her residence across the street.

Other park visitors loved Gerald and brought their children to see him. Several attempts had been made to capture the foul fowl. The state Department of Fish and Wildlife set a trap but it did a better job of attracting squirrels to eat the corn bait. Several employees of Oakland Animal Services tried and failed. 

Normally, an aggressive animal is sent to that farm upstate. Instead, Gerald was captured and taken away. Specifically to some East Bay Municipal Utility District property in the Orinda hills where there are plenty of other turkeys and not so many humans to attack. Or, more importantly, feed Gerald.

“Kudos to Oakland Animal Services because they went over and beyond,” Dmytryk said. “They stuck to their ethics. This turkey’s life is really owed to them to making the effort. This is what we need more of in society. Animals are not disposable. This bird got in trouble because of a human. He was habituated. Someone was feeding him and he lost his fear of humans. That’s a death sentence. Because one person might be able to deal with it but he’s
going to become a nuisance.”

Director of Oakland Animal Services Ann Dunn said “The most important thing is this situation might repeat itself. Yes, there’s somebody who’s feeding the birds. Their natural situation is disrupted. We’re desperately trying to get the person who was feeding them to stop.”

Dmytryk has 40 years of experience in wildlife search and rescue. In fact, that’s the title of her book. “Wildlife Search and Rescue: A Guide for First Responders.” She previously caught a turkey in San Jose and also worked to save animals impacted by the gulf oil spill. Her husband works as her teammate on rescues.

Dunn said she reached out to Dmytryk after all the previous attempts to capture Gerald failed. A few weeks ago, Dmytryk determined a net gun would work. Animal Services received the gun this week. The contraption works similar to Spiderman’s web.

“We tested it on a stuffed animal,” Dunn said. “In a blink of an eye, it’s completely wrapped around this thing. You have one chance. You try it and you scare it and it’s gone.”

That’s what happened when it misfired and that left Dmytryk to take things into her own hands. Dmytryk, who is part of Wildlife Emergency Services, said it was surprisingly simple to grab the scruff of the neck.

“Like a dog,” she said. “It seemed like time stopped. Within a millisecond, I had my hands around his body so I could contain those powerful wings. Once I grabbed him, he stood there for a second. He didn’t really fight. I brought him to the cage. Then we waited for Fish and Wildlife.”

Dunn maintained her sense of humor throughout, but noted that a lot of time and effort was put into dealing with Gerald, thanks to the people who were feeding him. “The wildlife experts say a fed bird is a dead bird,” she said. “Fish and Wildlife made clear that they made an exception for this bird. It’s ridiculous. It has been over five months we’ve been out there. That’s not a good use of anybody’s time.”

Several female turkeys are still living in the park, but they have not been aggressive towards humans. At least two are Gerald’s daughters and another is their mother. Two other females have been seen. 

Mateo, a longtime gardener at the Rose Garden said, “I’ll miss him. I wish him well, I look forward to meeting his replacement. May his replacement be as noble as he was.”

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