Students living in the University Housing residence halls and apartments may have seen a somewhat odd University Police Department (UPD) safety advisory late last week. It was a far cry from the typical signs notifying students of crimes such as theft and assaults on campus.
The suspect? “Male Tom Turkey,” the police advisory read. And the crime? Allegedly confronting a young female student on her run near the Cal Poly “P,” leaving scratches on her arms and legs.
“She was pretty upset,” UPD chief Bill Watton said. “She was afraid because these turkeys do get aggressive.”
There are some peculiar details on the flyer which left some students in a fit of giggles over the incident. The notification states that during the turkey’s mating season, “male turkeys are very territorial when female turkeys are present.” There is also a “suspect description” on the notice to provide students with information on the physical attributes of the two turkeys that attacked the woman.
UPD distributed the safety advisory immediately after the incident was reported, as is standard when “there’s an issue that could affect the safety of the university,” Watton said.
But the police chief could not help but laugh when asked about the “suspect” line.
“I missed that,” he said. “We have a template that we use for these flyers, and we probably should not have used ‘suspect.’ But every once in a while, it doesn’t hurt to add a little humor.”
Watton said the woman who reported the attack called UPD on her cellphone from the scene of the incident at approximately 3 p.m. on March 29. By the time officers responded to the hill the jogger was on, the two turkeys had backed off and were no longer acting aggressive toward the student.
“While the likelihood of serious injury is probably minimal, you’re not thinking that at the time when they’re pecking at you,” Watton said.
Emergency calls pertaining to aggressive turkeys are not particularly common at Cal Poly, Watton said. Most of the turkey calls UPD receives come from the hills on the north side of the Cal Poly “P.”
Watton said there are two flocks of turkeys on campus — those near the “P” and another group near the Cal Poly orange groves on the east side of campus.
Last fall, a female turkey and her chick entered the business building courtyard. Though no one was injured, the pair provided a distraction for students between classes.
That isn’t the only turkey-related incident in the past few years.
University police officers also shot a consistently aggressive turkey two years ago in the administration parking lot, after calling the California Department of Fish and Game for approval.
Mathematics freshman Jonathon Sather said he witnessed a turkey-human confrontation firsthand last month. Looking out of a window in Fremont Hall, he said he saw male students leaning over a fence harassing a turkey.
“The turkey was making a lot of noise, and the kids were making a lot of noise,” Sather said. “It seemed like they were taunting it.”
When Sather first saw the UPD safety advisory, he thought it was a joke. But after remembering the incident he saw just a week earlier, he realized the flyer was real.
Landscape architecture senior Chris Ray said it is important for students to be aware of the wildlife on campus. Ray, who plans to work in the parks industry after graduation, said he has learned about human interaction with animals through his classes at Cal Poly.
“It’s good for people to be in touch with nature,” he said. “They’re more likely to preserve it, which is a good thing. But the human environment and the natural environment don’t fit together — there needs to be boundaries.”
According to the California Department of Fish and Game website, male turkeys, which are known as “toms,” can act aggressively toward humans during spring mating season. In order to prevent this, the website suggests that people should not allow the animals to get comfortable on their property.
Watton said in the event someone is confronted by a wild turkey, they should stand their ground and avoid running away. A stick on the ground nearby, he said, can be used as a weapon to fend off turkeys that become too aggressive.