To cull or not to cull – the Red Junglefowl?

posted in: Species | 5

Red Junglefowl (Gallus gallus) is the ancestor of our domestic chicken. A small breeding population was established in the offshore island of Pulau Ubin around 1985 (Hails 1988). Subsequently they were seen in various parts of mainland Singapore. Then around 1999 the Sungei Buloh Wetland Reserve saw an influx of these birds, most probably introduced by the Jurong Bird Park. And since 2011 these birds have been breeding freely in the Reserve (Wang & Hails, 2007).

Male Red Junglefowl (Photo credit: Johnny Wee)
Male Red Junglefowl (Photo credit: Johnny Wee)

Originally classified as an uncommon resident, it is now commonly found in most parts of mainland Singapore. However, there have been extensive hybridisation with the domestic chickens such that in most urban areas the Red Junglefowls are hybrids. One reason for the increase in the urban population is feeding by people. This in turn has led to complaints of their loud crows in the early mornings.

Female Red Junglefowl (Photo credit: Johnny Wee)
Female Red Junglefowl (Photo credit: Johnny Wee)

The crow of the adult Red Junglefowl is the best known of all bird calls. This is a territorial call, crowing from an elevated roost before dawn. The call is also made during the day as the bird patrols its territorial boundaries. Or just before mating… or to show dominance over the others in the flock.

The video of a male junglefowl crowing (below) is courtesy of Sun Chong Hon.

Here is a video of the call by the hen, also courtesy of Chong Hong. It is not as loud or as impressive as that of the male, but it contributes to the so-called “noise pollution”.

There have been many complaints of noise pollution, especially in quiet neighbourhoods in the urban areas of Singapore.

The older generation has apparently forgotten that once the morning crows were a wake up call to Singaporeans. ON the other hand the younger generation was not born when Singapore was less urbanised, when there were many farms around with their chickens and ducks.

According to wildlife consultant Subaraj Rajathurai, most of the urban Red Junglefowls are hybrids and should be culled as they are starting to invade our Central Catchment Nature Reserve.

YC Wee, Subaraj Rajathurai, Sun Chong Hong & Johnny Wee
5th January 2017

Hails, C.J., 1988. An annotated checklist of the birds of Singapore.. Unpublished.
2. Wang, L.K. & C. J. Hails, 2007. An annotated checklist of birds of Singapore. Raffles Bulletin of Zoology, Supplement 15: 1-179.

5 Responses

  1. I would say cull the hybrids to keep the wild breed pure, if possible. I would also suggest cull and domesticate the hybrids and recycle them as food! Waste not, want not!

  2. Lee Chiu San

    What do you mean keep the wild breed pure? If domestic chickens are genetically predominantly Gallus gallus, then they are, technically speaking, purebred jungle fowls.
    Several experiments in back-breeding domestic breeds to revert to the wild type show that wild genes tend to be dominant. In Europe, there was an experiment to re-create the European Wild Ox, the Aurochs. By breeding a number of domestic breeds together, very soon, calves were showing up that resembled the Aurochs as described in ancient ballads.
    In the USA, there was an experiment to cross breed beagles with coyotes. Within a few generations, all the pups were indistinguishable from coyotes.
    And, as any cat fancier will tell you, if you breed all the cats in the world together indiscriminately, you will end up with grey tabbies, which are closest in colour to the original wild cat.
    From personal experience, where I live in Seletar, there are many abandoned farms, quite a number of domestic chickens run wild, and a few jungle fowl. The problem will take care of itself naturally.
    Those chicks that are physically more like domestic chickens will be slower and clumsier. The racers, rat snakes, pythons and monitor lizards which are relatively abundant here will cull them naturally.
    The chicks which have more jungle fowl abilities, namely, the ability to fly over a house, will survive.
    In a few years, through natural selective breeding, we will have birds that are physically like jungle fowl. And genetically, they are predominantly jungle fowl.

  3. Lee Chiu San

    Birds that look very much like purebred Jungle Fowl are now showing up in unexpected places in Singapore. I see them striding quite confidently in the Leedon Park and Kingsmead Road area.
    They also elicit very contrasting responses from human residents. One owner of a Good Class Bungalow in Bukit Timah was so delighted to have a Jungle Fowl cock show up at his place that he rushed to a pet shop to buy some Jungle Fowl hens in the hope that they will attract the visitor to stay.
    On the other hand, a prominent local family, whose members live in a number of adjacent bungalows, have been irritated by the morning crowing of a flock of Jungle Fowls, and have asked for advice on how they can be culled or removed.

  4. I agree with Kimosabe – cull the hybrids to keep the wild species pure. But the difficulty comes when people try to determine what is pure and what is not. It’s inevitable because “chicken genes” will naturally work it’s way into the pure species and it may be too late, but people will do the best they can to preserve what is left or what they think is considered “pure”.

  5. Lee Chiu San

    There is no way that any layman can tell which jungle fowl is a hybrid and which is not, if scholarly articles about chicken ancestry which are available on line are to be believed.
    For that reason, I say that culling by human beings should stop. As I stated in my earlier post above, the Jungle Fowl breed will purify itself through natural selection.
    There are four species in the genus Gallus, the Red, (Gallus gallus) the Grey (Gallus sonneratti) the Sri Lankan (Gallus lafayetti) and the Green (Gallus varius).
    The last two look so distinctively different that it is extremely unlikely that they feature in the ancestry of our domestic chickens.
    The widely-held belief is that chickens were domesticated somewhere on continental Asia, probably India, Indo China or Thailand, and that the original ancestor was the Red Junglefowl, though there may have been some traces of the Grey (which introduced the gene for yellow legs).
    As I stated earlier, I have seen many chickens which I take to be purebred jungle fowls in many parts of Singapore. Some, like those in Choa Chu Kang and Sembawang are 100% pure because they are descended from pet Red Junglefowl whose origins I know that have run wild.
    The population in Sungei Api Api at Pasir Ris is also likely to be pure jungle fowl because that place is not far from Changi, where the original population of purebred jungle fowls came to the Singapore mainland from Pulau Tekong.
    Again, I repeat, when domestic breeds that are genetically similar to their wild ancestors are subject to indiscriminate breeding, the wild characteristics re-assert themselves in very few generations.
    Therefore, the AVA’s claim that they are culling hybrids has little basis in scientific theory. In my opinion, all culling activities should stop immediately and Nature should be allowed to take its course.

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