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28 Feb, 2020 02:04

Not quack-checked! MSM dives for ‘Chinese duck army’ story as plague of locusts ravages Pakistan

Not quack-checked! MSM dives for ‘Chinese duck army’ story as plague of locusts ravages Pakistan

Western media have fallen hard for an apparently fake if adorable story about a 100,000-strong “duck army” that China has supposedly mobilized to fight billions of locusts currently laying waste to Pakistan’s food supply.

Initially published by local Chinese outlet Ningbo Evening News, the clickbait-tastic story, complete with a video showing a flock of ducks supposedly marching in formation, proved impossible to resist – or to fact-check – and had spread around the world by the time people started asking questions.

Supposedly reputable outlets including the BBC, Bloomberg, and Time unquestioningly parroted the story about “special Chinese ducks” that would be “more effective than pesticide” – not to mention better for the environment – in taking on the ravenous swarms. Citing Lu Lizhi, said to be a senior researcher with the Zhejiang Academy of Agricultural Sciences, the stories called the ducks a “biological weapon” and predicted they’d be unleashed against the hungry insects “as early as the second half of this year” following a test-run in China’s Xinjiang Province.

Alas, the story of locust-eating ducks fighting the devastating biblical plague has proven to be largely quackery, media that had covered it began realizing on Thursday. Unfortunately for Pakistan, which declared a national emergency earlier this month over the devastating infestation, an avian army is not waddling to their rescue, and even if they were, they wouldn’t do much good.

The Food and Agriculture Organization did the math and found an army of 100,000 ducks could only eat 20 million locusts in a day, while just one square kilometer of swarming locusts contains anywhere from 40 to 80 million of the insects. Also, swarms may stretch over hundreds of square kilometers, as they have in some locust-stricken areas of Africa.

“There are not enough ducks, and they cannot eat enough desert locusts to have a significant impact,” FAO locust expert Keith Cressman told Gizmodo. Other experts poured cold water – literally – on the idea of ducks waddling to the rescue in the arid Pakistani climate, explaining that the birds need water to survive, which they typically get in the same mouthfuls as the aquatic insects they eat.

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Chinese agricultural experts are indeed visiting Pakistan to help combat the locust swarm – they’ve proposed a combination of pesticides, deployment of ground equipment, and other measures, according to the Consulate-General of the People’s Republic of China in Karachi. Zhang Long, a professor from China Agriculture University and one of the experts sent to Karachi, explained that while ducks have been used since ancient times to combat locusts, this was officially an “exploratory” method that “hasn’t yet entered the government assistance program.” Translation: there will be no duck armies. YET.

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