“Genetic Pollution”?

I am reading the wonderful new monograph The Gyrfalcon . On page 229 I came upon a passage which may say more about the Scandinavian mind than falcons, and I found it both funny and disturbing. I am curious what readers might say– I think (Russian) author Eugene Potapov, who is both an ornithologist and a falconer, found the incident as odd as I do.

I quote, but without all the references (italics mine):

“There was panic in Sweden in 1999 when an escaped male Gyrfalcon x Peregrine falcon hybrid from Denmark paired with a native Peregrine female in Bohuslan, the male identified by its leg ring. The pairing made the headlines of Swedish newspapers. Falconry is, in general, prohibited in Finland, Sweden, and Norway, and so the public reaction to this event was negative because of the potential for genetic pollution of the native species. The case was termed the “birds of prey scandal” by the Swedish Ornitholoigical Society. Officials from Naturvardsverket (the Swedish Ministry of the Environment) killed the chicks produced by the pair and shot the hybrid. They also wanted to kill the female as her willingness to mate with a non- pure bird caused a concern that should another escape happen the bird might be equally willing a second time. However the female escaped and remained at large”.

Isn’t this rather… creepy? I mean, even apart from the fact that the descendants of Vikings have turned into a bunch of handkerchief- wringing wussies, the Nazi- like assumptions inherent here are disturbing. I should add that Potapov was not worried.

You may also be relieved that, in Potapov’s next section, Norwegian authorities did NOT kill a lesbian cross- species Gyr- Peregrine pair that they found brooding their infertile eggs in a seabird colony there. I never knew that birds of prey had such interesting love lives.


  1. Neutering– amazing. Our tax dollars at work.

    Steve– if you go into my archives you will find some material on the New England wild canid, which is rather like the red wolf but apparently a bit different genetically. It is often denounced as a mongrel invader too.

  2. More on the business of keeping a species pure: it seems that there are those in California in favor of shooting hundreds of barred owls to keep them from “diluting” and/or finishing off the spotted owl genetic pool. Wait a minute…if we are proponents of the real science that the Bush administration nearly succeeds in quashing in favor of intelligent design, then what of evolution occuring right in front of us?

  3. They are talking of doing the same in Europe, killing the American Ruddy ducks to keep them from interbreeding with the native White headed ducks. In this case, I am a LITTLE more sympathetic– the phenotype (appearance, to non- biologists) is very different, unlike in the owls you mention or even in Black ducks and Mallards. But it still seems weird to enforce ethnic purity on animals. As you say, evolution in action.

    My favorite falcon in the world, the Altai, is probably a natural hybrid (or, if you merge the species, “intergrade” ) of the Gyr and Saker. If you do the same domestically, you get the bird in the photo above.

  4. Similar attempts are made in Australia, to keep the dingo “pure”. The phenomenon of interbreedng was (at least I think) at first officially called “genetic pollution to some degree” by Dr. Ricky Spencer. But seriously in that case the term is proably more inappropriate since that would be a mixture of two subspecies at it’s most. Possibly not even that because there isn’t much left that discriminates between dingoes and all other domestic dogs and even these few features (in fact only tooth size, DNA and some skull measures) are questionable and so it is not sure whether dingoes are really a seperate sub-species. And to be honest the number of dingo-crossbreeds is now so high that the “extinction” of the dingo is consideered inevitable in the wild and it’s very likely that the cross-breeds already have the same ecological role (as much as that is possible with the current transformation of the australian wilderness of course). The whole “genetic pollution”-stuff is probably a question of ideology not of ecology.

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