Biological Control Gone Wrong

Ever heard the saying, “don’t mess with Mother Nature”?

Yeah, you probably have. In fact, as her proud, loving children, it’s probably safe to say that it’s an unwritten rule we’re all innately aware of, right from the moment of our birth.

Yet, we keep breaking that rule, time and time again. We always seem to think we know better, even though we usually don’t. Our tiny instances of success are the offspring of a very long history of failures.

Now, hold on – keep the hate gate shut and hear us out. We’re not being negative without reason! It’s just that sometimes, we tend to over-step our boundaries and do things without thinking about the consequences.

For one, we’ve done our fair share of biological control, which consists of using natural forces, like predators and parasites, to keep the pest population at bay. It’s an important component of integrated pest management (IPM) programs!

But its development is stained with blood (and bug juice). In essence, we played God, and left quite a bit of destruction in our wake.

The Four Pests Campaign

The Four Pests campaign, also known as the ‘Sparrow Campaign’, is widely known as China’s worst self-inflicted environmental disaster.

Back in the 1950’s, China was going through its ‘Great Leap Forward’, which was an effect to transform China into a socialist powerhouse society through rapid industrialization.

Of course, when it comes to advancing a civilization, accelerating food production is absolutely crucial! So Mao Zedong, who was the emperor of China at the time, thought it’d be a swell idea to eliminate the four pests that hindered their harvest: mosquitoes, flies, rats, and sparrows.

As you can probably tell, Mao was no expert on ecology.

The Avian Massacre

But here’s why the campaign became widely known as the ‘Sparrow Campaign’. The Chinese government waged war on four pests, but was particularly annoyed at the Eurasian Tree Sparrow.

And their annoyance wasn’t misplaced, by any means. These avian pests loved to feast on the farmers’ grain seeds, and were believed to play a huge role in the quality of the annual harvests.

In fact, the Chinese scientists calculated that each sparrow consumed at least 4.5kg of grain every year. So they thought, hey! That means if we kill a million sparrows, we’d have food for 60,000 people!

One thing’s for sure: PETA would’ve blown a vessel or two, had they existed at the time. Simply put, it was a total and methodical massacre. No bird was left alive – nests were ravaged, eggs were broken, and chicks were killed. The people were so thirsty for their blood that they chased the birds until they literally fell from the skies from exhaustion!

HUNDREDS OF MILLIONS of sparrows were sent to the after-life, and the Chinese leaders danced in triumph as they waited in anticipation for the next harvest.

The Golden Age for Insects

The results, however, were nothing to dance about.

Without the flying predators to curb their population, the kingdom of insects thrived like never before, and their population hit record-breaking numbers. Locusts, in particular, swarmed all over the country, eating everything they could lay their mandibles on.

Unfortunately for the Chinese leaders, those mass-multiplying pests absolutely decimated the crops in a way far worse than if birds had been allowed to fly around! Who would’ve thought that the sparrows were actually keeping their crop loss to a minimum? Mao definitely didn’t.

Great Chinese Famine

A ‘Great Step Forward’? A ‘Great Step Back’, is more like it.

Mao’s uneducated attempt at biological control led his people into a period described as the ‘Great Chinese Famine’.

While the official number of victims is placed at 15 million, many scholars estimate that it could be closer to 36, or even 45 million! A countless number of desperate people committed murder for food and for speaking out against the government. Documents report several thousand cases where people even resorted to cannibalism, with parents eating their own kids, and vice-versa.

Yeah, we weren’t kidding on the bit with the bloody past. All this tragedy was the result of a pest control gone wrong.

Pest Control is a Science

Biological control is an effective form of IPM that’s still practiced to this day. But don’t worry – if anything, we’ve learned from our mistakes:

See, flawless logic.

Nowadays, biological control is backed by meticulous amounts of study and analysis. Before introducing any new organisms into the scene, researchers would put them through intensive testing in quarantine to determine their potential impacts on the environment and its inhabitants.

The Four Pests Campaign serves as a stark lesson as to what happens when pest control is taken lightly. While biological control can be very economical and environment-friendly, just remember that it can lead to severe consequences if it’s practiced on an impulsive, untested whim!

And by the way, in case you were wondering – the Eurasian Tree Sparrows are doing fine now, and they’ll be here for a long time to come.

Terminix Canada understands more than anyone the science that goes into pest management! And fear not – we respect Mother Nature enough to know not to mess around. We specialize in fast and environment-friendly pest control services that’ll keep pests out of your building, and the world in good order.

For more information regarding our pest management & control services, or how to prevent bed bugs, call us at 905-738-6676!