Chinese Sparrow Experiment

Kevin O'Donnell odonnell at sasa.gov.uk
Tue Sep 13 11:58:30 EST 1994


I was talking to some colleagues about this 'experiment' which I can
remember seeing as part of a TV programme for schoolchildren on ecology
(i.e. it was not yesterday).  I wonder if any readers of this forum 
recognise the incident from the following description and could either
provide, or point me towards, some publications on it.

As far as I can recall, what happened was this.  Chairman Mao had become
concerned about the amount of agricultural produce eaten by sparrows (?) 
and ordered that they should all be killed.  The programme had some 
incredible footage of crowds running around with swatters, rattles etc.
which prevented the sparrows from roosting.  I distinctly remember film
of piles of exhausted sparrows being shoveled onto trucks, presumably to
be incinerated.

The end result was .... that the crops were eaten by the caterpillars 
that the sparrows had been keeping in check.

The story has stayed with me for 20 years, partly becuase of the footage 
,partly because it's such a good illustration of the dangers of 
tampering with ecosystems and partly because it's such a good fable of
human folly.

I wonder how much of what I remember is an accurate recall of what I saw,
or even whethwer the original programme was accurate.  Any takers?
Kevin O'Donnell
Scottish Agricultural Science Agency    
Edinburgh
Scotland                                           



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