As many as 200 coots received a last-minute reprieve Wednesday when the governing board of the Rancho Santa Margarita community--responding to a request by a national animal rights organization--decided to put off its planned execution of the bothersome waterfowl occupying its lake.
"The board has decided to hold off . . . to research the situation . . . to make sure its decision on the coots is the most humane one," said Leslie Martin, spokeswoman for Merit Property Management, which oversees the community's services and applied for a federal permit to kill the migratory birds.
The board, Martin said, "had been assured the process was the best course."
But the People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA), based in Norfolk, Va., faxed the company a request Tuesday that the killing not go forward, Martin said. The board is planning to meet with a PETA representative Monday to discuss nonlethal options.
The coots, which arrive here from Canada in the fall and spend the winter, are attracted to the community's lake. Before they leave in the spring, the black birds with white beaks and duck-like feet can really muck things up, many agree.
Merit sent out a letter to all homeowners that spells out the coot threat.
The bird droppings are polluting the lake, suffocating the fish and posing health risks to humans walking along the shoreline, the letter said. Those problems, combined with the extensive damage to greenery that has left the shoreline mostly mud, prompted the board to seek relief. The board also was told the birds may return next year with their offspring, possibly tripling the population.
The permit sought on behalf of the community board allowed for the chemical extermination of up to 200 coots from October to April. Deadly chemical tranquilizers--which the coots eat--were to be spread around the lakefront, according to Dee Wells, Merit's regional manager. Wells said the coots would then be removed from the area.
After a handful of concerned residents called PETA asking about the signs that announced the "coot elimination" on Wednesday, PETA wildlife caseworker Stephanie Boyles said, she persuaded the homeowner's board to stall the killing.
Boyles learned that some in the community feed the black birds at water's edge, which may encourage the coots to flock to the lake. She suggested that a dog could help deter the birds.
"The perfect situation would be that a dog is rescued from the animal shelter to patrol the water's edge," she said.