|Meleagris gallopavo.The reintroduction of America's beloved |
holiday fowl has been one of conservation's great triumphs--
but now some populations are plummeting. What's going on?
Photograph by Andrew Zuckerman.
Kathleen Wall, a culinary expert at Plimoth Plantation, the Massachusetts living history museum, provides some insight. "When Englishmen referred to 'fowling,' they are generally talking about waterfowl. Winslow specifically mentions deer, so we know there was venison on the table. And earlier, the governor wrote that turkeys were plentiful that year." After that oblique reference, however, the turkey track goes cold. "As far as that first harvest meal," Wall allows, "we simply can't say there was turkey."
These days that's not the only mystery surrounding Meleagris gallopavo. The reintroduction of the wild turkey to North America is frequently touted as the greatest wildlife conservation success story of the last century. Heavily hunted since the earliest days of European occupation, pushed out of huge swaths of its range by logging and land clearing, wild turkey populations reached a nadir in the early 1930s, with a continental population of about 30,000 birds. Today, after a massive trap-and-transfer effort that has spanned a quarter-century, about 7 million wild turkeys strut, gobble, and yelp from every state where they are native, and then some. "This was a monumental, continent-wide effort," says Tom Hughes, assistant vice president of conservation programs for the National Wild Turkey Federation. "There aren't many stories as inspiring in the history of wildlife conservation."
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