Decision Maker Response
Harold Holzer

Jul 31, 2012 — If you are in receipt of this email you have recently communicated with me, or with Emily K. Rafferty, President of The Metropolitan Museum of Art, about recent reports that one or more young hawks seem to have taken ill in an outdoor area next to the Museum. In my role as senior vice president for external affairs, I have been asked by Ms. Rafferty to reply. Some of you may remember that I offered comments to similar messages of concern back on August 1, 2008; that reply still lives on the website

First, let me say how delighted and relieved we all were to read a recent update(on that indicates that the seemingly afflicted “fledge” appears to be alive and well and flying about. Happily, if it was indeed made sick by ingesting something, it seems to have recovered. Needless to say, we share your affection for these birds—they are frequently in our sight on the various rooftops of the building, and we have come to regard them as precious neighbors and a source of great delight.

That said, please understand that we are obligated—to our public, to our collection, and to the general issue of safety—to do battle against the vermin population that, without proper controls, would pose a major threat to the institution. Rats cause disease and fire hazards, and hold the potential to cause significant damage to works of art in various media, especially those made of organic material like textile, paper, or wood. We live in a challenging environment in our Central Park home. Of course it has always been our goal to focus pest control on the vermin alone, and to use materials that pose the least danger to predators and other native wildlife.

We fully believe that our professional advisors, Orkin, have developed a system that meets all these goals. We use bait boxes that birds and other animals cannot penetrate. We employ the chemical known under the brand name Contrac that, while deadly for rodents, almost always bring them from their nests, subject to predators, when they are dying, at which time the poison is no longer in their systems. In other words, once they have lost the ability to flee from predators like the hawks, when they are most likely to be caught, killed, and consumed, the poison has already left their systems and is inactivated—when there is no secondary danger to their captors. In this way we fulfill our obligations to protect the museum while minimizing the threat to the birds.

Nor do we set these traps indiscriminately. We first carefully test areas for infestation by putting out boxes that contain only food, and only when we detect proof that rats are entering and consuming the bait do we add the Contrac. This in effect minimizes the time the chemical is exposed to the elements—and to nature.

In all our work here, we strive to be environmentally sensitive, and we continue to have the highest respect not only for that which has been created by humankind, but also for that which has been created by nature. We believe we have balanced our responsibilities in the most informed and humane way possible, and trust you will understand that our staff vigilantly remains in close supervision of the entire process, and ever sensitive to changing technologies. All this said, we think we have not added any danger to the lives of our beloved hawks and their progeny.

We are pleased to learn that the bird in question appears to have recovered—and look forward to further discussion if you feel the need to dialogue. Many thanks for your concern.

With best wishes,

Harold Holzer
Senior Vice President, External Affairs
The Metropolitan Museum of Art
1000 Fifth Avenue
New York, NY 10028