The peafowl of Canberra's south can sleep easy tonight - plans to rehome or euthanise the feral population have been called off following a record community response.
In April, the ACT government proposed an annual trapping program to permanently remove the colourful birds, which have divided residents in Red Hill and Narrabundah since they moved into town almost two decades ago.
While some had complained the birds were noisy, messy and even posed safety hazards, a local campaign to save them soon made international headlines as proud 'peafowlers' banded together for the birds they now claim as "part of the community". Even Chief Minister Andrew Barr leant his support, signing a petition against his own government's proposal earlier this month.
On Tuesday, ACT Minister for Transport and City Services Meegan Fitzharris said she was overwhelmed by the discussion the draft management plan had generated - both nationally and internationally.
“We have read your comments, we have listened, and I’m pleased to announce that we will not remove the peafowl from their current habitat," she said.
In recognition of the peafowl's place in the community, Ms Fitzharris said the government would instead work with the community to develop "an agreed approach to future management", to be jointly carried out with residents.
Among them will be Timothy DeWan, who has been an adoring neighbour to the birds for more than 15 years.
He told Fairfax Media he was "over the moon" after the backdown and the campaign had brought the community together in a way nothing else ever had.
"I've met so many people I didn't know were [my neighbours], this whole thing, it's so Canberra," Mr DeWan said.
"I've been interviewed on Russian television, we've spotted tourists roaming the area looking for peafowl, there's even [talk of] making a movie of the whole thing, sort of like Canberra's version of The Castle, you know the little guys fighting back."
A spokesman for Mr Barr said he was pleased to see the government had been able to listen to the community on this occasion, but the chief minister had not campaigned behind the scenes to thwart the plan, despite signing the petition.
"He saw [campaigners] out at the Manuka shops, he said he liked the peacocks himself and was happy to support them," the spokesman said.
Having expected about 50 responses to its proposal, a spokeswoman said Transport Canberra and City Services was taken aback to be hit with more than 400 submissions in less than two months.
That included a scathing assessment from RSPCA ACT, which had been incorrectly listed among those consulted in the original proposal in an "oversight" conceded by Transport Canberra.
Chief executive Tammy Ven Dange said the animal welfare organisation had not seen the plan since 2016, long before a new provision to euthanise birds which could not be rehomed was added, and it did not present sufficient evidence the peafowl posed a risk to either the environment or community health.
The government said it had been getting complaints about the growing peafowl population since 2003, though a very small number of submissions to the management plan were in favour of removing the birds. It is understood there had been only 17 formal complaints in the past five years.
Ms Fitzharris said that, while the neighbourhood had spoken, it was important complaints were not ignored.
"They will be taken into account as part of the community-led discussions," she said, adding the next step would be to create a group that was "representative of the community as a whole" for further consultation.
“It’s great that ... the community has come together to come up with a way humans and peafowl can live in harmony," Ms Fitzharris said.
The story of how peafowl first made a home in the leafy streets of Narrabundah and Red Hill remains shrouded in mystery but locals say it began with stray peacock named Andrew (after the politician), who moved to the area when a small animal park on Mugga Lane closed down. The origins of a smaller group of peafowl in Pialligo are less clear.
On Tuesday, a spokeswoman said the RSPCA had not had any contact with the ACT government since its submission.
Do you know more about the origins of Canberra's peafowl pride? Get in touch email@example.com
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