Drugged-Up Swans Forced to Go Cold Turkey After Invading Poppy Farm

Newsweek 23.06.2023 17:54:08 Aristos Georgiou
A composite photo of a swan and an opium poppy field

Swans that became addicted to eating opium poppies have been forced to go cold turkey after invading a farmer's field.

In February, hundreds of swans began arriving at the poppy field near Komárno in Slovakia, local media outlet RTVS reported.

The birds-estimated to number more than 200-were initially attracted to the field due to a temporary pond that had formed after heavy rains. But the swans became stuck in the field after getting a taste for the opium poppy, a bizarre situation that neither farmers nor conservationists had seen before.

Conservationists eventually intervened and removed intoxicated birds from the field to detox.

The opium poppy is a plant from which opiate drugs are derived. The milky latex found in the seed capsules of the plant contains various naturally occurring opiate compounds.

In the space of around four months, the swans wreaked havoc on the farmer's field, destroying around ?10,000 ($10,888) worth of plants over an area of more than five hectares (about 12 acres).

But the swans suffered physically as a result of their consumption, becoming dependent on the plant. Intoxicated birds were seen acting dazed and unable to fly or even walk.

"The entire poppy plant is toxic except for the seed. Those swans don't recognize it and thereby harm themselves," poppy farmer Bálint Pém told RTVS.

Dozens of the birds died after consuming the poppy plants, with some becoming easy targets for predators in their intoxicated state.

"In principle, it's the same as with a drug addict. When they eat less of it, they will be intoxicated. When they eat the same thing over and over and over and over, they will perish. They overdose," naturalist Vladimír Topercer told local media outlet Nový cas in May.

Pém, who has been growing poppies for years, said last month that he had no idea how to deal with the unusual situation occurring on his farm.

"I already called my colleagues in the Czech Republic, they didn't even believe me. We haven't come across anything like this in Slovakia yet," he told Nový cas.

Swans are protected by law in Slovakia, meaning he was not able to remove the birds without permission. No one was able to reimburse the farmer for his damages either-neither the state nor a commercial insurance company.

"Damage caused by these protected animals occurs only rarely in Slovakia, therefore swans do not belong to the list of animals for which the state pays compensation," Tomás Ferencák, a spokesman for Slovakia's Ministry of the Environment, told RTVS.

Many of the swans ended up dying, while some that were capable of doing so left of their own accord. Conservationists were eventually able to remove the remaining surviving birds from the field after permission was finally granted by the authorities.

Conservationists took the intoxicated swans to two canals far away from the poppy field where they were forced to go cold turkey.

"We assumed they would just fly away but they didn't," local conservationist Radovan Michalka, told German broadcaster DW. "It's a rare case in Slovakia so we didn't have any experience. Hopefully, we'll be smarter in the future."

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