How snake-fighting peacocks came to the edge of the Gibson Desert

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Kalgoorlie 6430
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ABC Goldfields

By

Rhiannon Stevens

Posted

October 03, 2018 10:35:18

Video: Warburton Roadhouse's booming population of peafowl

(ABC News)
Suburb split as wild peacock antics fall foul of residents

Photo:
Peafowl at feeding time, Warburton Roadhouse WA. From Rottnest Island to Canberra, peafowl populations have boomed in some unlikely places across Australia.While admired for their beauty, peafowl are noisy birds that can divide communities. The story of how peafowls arrived at an outback Western Australian roadhouse is soaked in mystery and alcohol. (Supplied: Ted Box)
In Warburton, a remote community on the edge of the Gibson Desert, the story of the arrival of peafowls is a local enigma.The story goes like this: a man woke up at Uluru nursing a hangover and found he had two peafowls in his car. “They’re wonderful creatures, and they’ve got a purpose — they keep the snakes down around the place,” Mr Box said. Maree Daniels from the RSPCA said that they were not a common pet, particularly because they were so noisy. Feral populations of peafowl are not believed to have survived because the birds are prone to attacks from foxes and dogs.These days they are mostly found on hobby farms. Travelling west he left them at the Warburton Roadhouse on his way through.From this hazy beginning grew a large and rowdy population of peafowl cared for by the roadhouse managers, Maree and Ted Box. “Then there was an auction of the overstocked zoo animals, including peafowl, tigers and bears. How did peafowls come to Western Australia?Cassyanna Grey, a conservation officer at Rottnest Island, said peafowl first came to Western Australia in the early 1900s as a gift to the Perth Zoo from the Melbourne Zoo. “My philosophy is that we’re not taking the peacock feathers, the peacocks are giving us the feathers,” he said. Photo:
The postcard-perfect Warburton Roadhouse is more than 1,000km south-west of Alice Springs. (ABC Goldfields-Esperance: Tom Joyner)
“They’re quirky. Outback menagerie keeps snakes downMr and Mrs Box have lost count of the exact number of peafowl, however one thing not in doubt is their love for the birds. Members of the public, circuses and private zoos purchased the animals,” Ms Grey said.Peafowl were also released into the south-west corner of the state by the Western Australia Acclimatisation Committee for the purpose of hunting. (ABC Goldfields: Tom Joyner)
“In ancient India, the rajas used the peacocks in their palaces to kill cobras, to keep the cobras away.”Known for keeping snakes at bay as a predator, they can also easily become prey, as the Warburton peafowls were being killed by dingoes until Mr and Mrs Box dingo-proofed the fence.The roadhouse is surrounded by a high razor-wire security fence, however the peafowls often fly out and perch on power poles and wander through the community.When someone broke into the roadhouse grounds and stole several chicks, the peafowl spooked and flew away only to have locals from the Warburton community gradually shepherd them back.To reduce peafowl numbers Mr and Mrs Box attempted to have some moved to Perth, but the logistical difficulties of moving them such a large distance on outback roads meant the plan failed.The Boxes sometimes give them away to caring people who want to take a less typical memento home. Photo:
Dozens of peacocks roam the grounds of the roadhouse where the magistrate stays in the remote community of Warburton. Mrs Box said they were her babies, and she eagerly defended them from anyone who complained about the noise.Peacocks are notoriously noisy, they call and sing to peahens in a honking lilt — much like someone calling out “help!”.The noise had drawn complaints from some neighbours, but Mr Box said complaints came from new arrivals to the area who had not yet acclimatised. They are not your everyday chicken” Ms Daniels said.Out of the heat in the dark interior of the roadhouse Mr and Mrs Box sell peacock feathers to tourists.The peacocks shed their feathers each year and, while some considered them back luck, Mr Box saw them as a gift from his unruly friends.
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