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Lies about pigeons

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A month ago I received distress calls from people in Mumbai that the Municipal Commissioner had suddenly swooped down on a 20-year-old feeding platform (chabutra) for pigeons, which was on the side of the road in Khar, had covered it with plastic sheets and posted police people so that no one could feed the birds. The pigeons left inside died of starvation as they were not allowed out. The pigeons outside, who had been fed for years, had nowhere else to go so they stayed on the road waiting to be fed. Hundreds were run over by cars. Anyone who tried to feed them was made to sit in a police station. In the meantime the Municipal Commissioner had several completely untrue articles published in the local papers about how dangerous pigeons are to human health.

I talked to the Commissioner and this is the reason he gave me for this unnecessary and murderous act : Pigeons lay eggs. The eggs are eaten by crows. We don’t want crows. So if we get rid of pigeons, the crows will leave.

I have rarely heard such complete nonsense. There is no scientific proof of any link between pigeon eggs and crow breeding. Crows are scavengers. They will continue to breed as long as humans generate filth.

We need to know why pigeons are in the cities. Thousands of people feed them – in Delhi there are designated feeding areas and people come in scooters and cars to throw feed. My hospital has over a thousand pigeons that have been hurt by cats, dogs and cars.

There are no pigeons in the wild any more.

How did they become city creatures like dogs and cats ?

The pigeon we know today is a descendant of the Rock Dove (Columbia Livia) which prefers rocky coastal cliffs to cities. As far back as 10,000 years ago records show that people in Mesopotamia (now Iraq) and Egypt began coxing them with food and encouraging them to feed and breed near human dwellings. These birds were then caught and eaten. People started breeding them like chickens to eat. And the breeding and domestication led to the subspecies in our cities today.

Over time, people stopped eating them and started breeding them as a hobby. Pigeons were transported all over the world by ship to feed the pigeon breeding hobby. Obviously many escaped and began to breed freely in the cities. They had been bred over time to be comfortable with humans and so they took up nesting on building ledges, window sills: anything that looked like a cliff edge.

 People realized that pigeons had a talent for navigation, and sailors used them to point lost ships towards land. They became valuable as airborne messengers and even armies started using them. Pigeon posts were recognized all over the world. Genghis Khan used pigeons as daily messengers both to enemies and allies. They were used widely in both World Wars. America alone used 200,000 in the Second World War. Medals for bravery were given to pigeons. The last messaging service using pigeons in the world was disbanded in 2006 by the police force in the state of Odisha !

By then pigeons had also adapted their appetites from berries, insects and seeds to anything that humans would feed them – from grain to ice cream and biscuits – and they became expert trash hunters. There is a lovely film on You Tube about a pigeon in Canada that steals a bag of chips from a shop every day !

Their breeding biology is good for the survival of their children : both parents rear their chicks on a diet of protein-and fat-rich milk produced in a throat pouch called the crop, instead of relying on insects, worms and seeds to keep their young alive. As long as they can eat, their babies will survive.

So, when other birds finally gave up the ability to survive in the harsh urban environment and died out, the pigeon survives. Along with the crow, it is the only bird that most city children will ever see. Children, who are allowed to feed them, remember the experience years later and how it shaped their personalities into becoming more humane people.

What is there to hate in pigeons ? They are good looking with iridescent necks and so many colours. People, who have adopted injured pigeons who cannot fly any more, say that they are beloved members of the household. Charming, affectionate, sociable with individual personalities. When they live indoors, they keep themselves very clean and love bathing ! They are easy to potty train. They are important to the cleanliness of a city. Crows are still too shy to walk around with people. But pigeons eat all the trash that we throw on the sidewalk, even the vomit. They are smart with complex social systems. I think that they think they are people too.

What is their importance ? We need hawks, eagles, falcons and kites, and pigeons are a food for them.

Pigeon compost is considered the best of all manures. In early history perhaps the domestication of pigeons led to advances in the ability to grow the best possible crops. Pigeon faeces was so valuable that armed guards were hired to protect dovecotes from thieves. In the Middle East, where eating pigeon flesh was forbidden, dovecotes were built simply to provide manure for growing fruit and this practice continued for centuries. In France, Italy and Spain guano was used extensively on hemp crops and for the fertilisation of vineyards. It is extremely nitrogen rich. There are ads on the net advertising pigeon manure which sells for twice the price of other manures. Their compost is unsurpassed for fertilizing tomatoes, watermelon, eggplant, roses, and other plants that like a rich soil.

In Morocco pigeons’ droppings are collected and sold to leather tanneries as when leather is soaked in pigeon faeces it becomes more supple . Moroccan leather is considered the best in the world.

Who hates them ? The same people who drove out sparrows, wrens, warblers, blue jays, cardinals, egrets, and everything else. The same people who choose sterile joyless streets as a representation of “cleanliness” and “development” over human happiness.

And they make up these stories about disease spreading.

Do pigeons spread disease ? No. If they did they would not have been eaten for centuries without a single case of disease reported. In the 19th century the American government urged people to collect pigeons and eat them for protein.

Ironically, the pigeon is now wrongly perceived as a disease carrier as a result of commercial propaganda pumped out by the pest control industry, with America being the source of a majority of this misinformation – the same country that urges you to eat them.

Every country bureaucrat (never scientists) accuses the pigeon of spreading everything. The Mumbai Commissioner has accused them of tuberculosis. The Municipal Commissioner of New York spread stories about pigeons spreading meningitis. He had to apologise publicly.

The pest control industry pumps out propaganda suggesting that pigeons are disease carriers. In reality they pose little or no risk at all. I have a staff of people who look after diseased and sick pigeons . Not one person – and they work without gloves and face protectors – has ever fallen sick in the last 40 years.

Do pigeons, or their excrement, transmit diseases to human beings ? The answer is no, they do not. The likelihood of a bird passing on a disease to a human being is so infinitesimally small that it is not even worth considering.

Below are quotes from leading experts in respect of the potential for pigeons to transmit disease to human beings:

* The Center for Disease Control in Atlanta, the New York City Department of Health, and the Arizona Department of Health, all agree that diseases associated with pigeons present little risk to people. None of them has documented a SINGLE case of pigeon to human transmission of any disease.

* The UK’s Chief Veterinary Officer, when addressing the House of Lords in 2000 on the issue of intimate human contact with 8,000 pigeons feeding in

Trafalgar Square, was asked if this represented a risk to human health. The Chief Veterinary Officer told The House that it did not.

* The Cincinnati Environment Advisory Council report: “The truth is that the vast majority of people are at little or no health risk from pigeons and probably have a greater chance of being struck by lightning than contracting a disease from pigeons.”

* Mike Everett, Royal Society for the Protection of Birds, in The Big Issue Magazine, February 2001: “There is no evidence to show that pigeons spread disease.”

* David A. Palmer (B.V.Sc., M.R.C.V.S) said in an article entitled ‘Pigeon Lung Disease Fatality and Health Risk from Ferals’: “It really makes absolute nonsense for a popular daily newspaper to suggest that pigeons present a health hazard.”

* David Taylor BVMS FRCVS FZS: “In 50 years professional work as a veterinary surgeon I cannot recall one case of a zoonosis in a human that was related to pigeons.”

Many professions, such as those involved in veterinary medicine and wildlife rehabilitation, treat wild birds suffering from a variety of avian diseases on a daily basis. Those involved in the sport of racing pigeons also spend a great deal of time in dusty pigeon lofts that accommodate hundreds of pigeons. If the potential for the transmission of disease is so great, why is it that we do not see regular human fatalities in these professions and sports where close contact with birds, such as pigeons, is commonplace?

Four major studies done across the world in 1983/1993/ 1996 /2002 have confirmed that not only does the pigeon not carry any avian influenza, it is highly resistant to the disease, cannot be infected with it and cannot spread the disease.

How to reduce pigeon numbers in the city ? The answer is very simple. Making pigeon chabutaras and designated feeding sites, and using pigeon lofts where eggs can be removed, has been proven to be successful in every city where it has been tried. If the Mumbai Municipal Commissioner wants to reduce pigeons, it can only be done by establishing chabutaras, not by removing them.

To join the animal welfare movement contact gandhim@nic.in, www.peopleforanimalsindia.org

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Features

Development after the elections

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By Jehan Perera

Many years ago, former Government Agent of Jaffna, Dr Devanesan Nesiah, explained the northern sentiment when elections were taking place.  He said there was apprehension about the possible turn of events over which they had no control.  The minority status of the Tamil people would invariably mean that their future would be determined by the outcome of the power struggle in the south of the country.  I was reminded of these words of Dr Nesiah during discussions organised by the Civil Society Platform in the northern towns of Vavuniya and Jaffna on the democratic challenges arising from the forthcoming elections.

The main theme, at the present elections in the south, and most of the country, has been the need to elect a strong government and to give it a 2/3 majority to change the constitution, accordingly.  The response in Vavuniya and Jaffna, by the members of civil society, was that a strong government would not heed the wishes of the people. Like people in other parts of the country, they felt let down by the political leaders and said they did not know for whom to vote.  The issues that they highlighted as being their concerns were economic ones, such as the lack of jobs for youth and the harm to families caused by an unregulated micro credit scheme that made them vulnerable to the predatory actions of money lenders.

The civil society members, in the towns of Vavuniya and Jaffna, did not take up the issue of the 19th Amendment and the possible threat to civil society space that the speakers from the south put before them. This indicated a longer term need to have educational programmes on the importance of the rule of law and judicial independence, in particular, to ensure justice and non-discrimination.  But they also did not comment or discuss the manifesto put out by the main Tamil political party, the TNA, which addressed longstanding issues of the Tamil polity, including self-determination, federalism, the merger of the Northern and Eastern provinces or the newer post-war issues of missing persons and accountability for war crimes.

EXISTENTIAL ISSUES

The absence of public debate, at the civil society meetings in the north on the political dimension at the forthcoming elections, may reflect a wariness about speaking publicly on politically controversial matters. Civil society groups throughout the country have been reporting there is more police surveillance of their work. The fear of falling into trouble and being seen as anti-government may have restrained the participants at the civil society meeting in the north from expressing their true feelings. On the other hand, there is also the reality that existential issues of jobs, loans and incomes are of immediate concern especially in the context of the Covid-induced economic downturn. The short term concerns of people are invariably with economic issues.

One of the salient features of the present elections has been the general unwillingness of even the main political parties to address any of the issues posed by the TNA.  This would be due to their apprehension of the adverse fallout from the electorate. It could also be due to their lack of ideas regarding the way forward. Apart from the 19th Amendment, another impediment to a strong government, that is identified by its proponents is the 13th Amendment. In the run up to the elections, there have been calls for the abolition of the 13th Amendment, which created the devolved system of provincial councils, along with the 19th Amendment that directly reduced the power of the presidency and increased the independence of state institutions. The provincial councils have been emasculated by denying them of both resources and decision making power and are condemned for being white elephants.

It has been noted, by the political commentator D B S Jeyaraj, that the TNA’s choice of focusing on issues of transitional justice, in dealing with war time violations of human rights, led to the TNA aligning itself with Western powers. This did not yield the anticipated benefits as the previous government failed to implement many of its commitments in regard to transitional justice. It would have been better to have focused instead on getting the provincial councils in the north and east to engage in more development-oriented work which would have met the existential needs of the people.

PROVINCIAL COUNCILS

Jeyaraj has also surmised that if the TNA had chosen the path of utilising the provincial council system for development work, it could have obtained support from India, which had been the co-architects of the provincial council system, in 1987, along with the then Sri Lankan government. India has a moral obligation to contribute to developing the north and east of the country where the war raged in full fury and led to immense destruction. India’s role in destabilising Sri Lanka and enhancing the military capacity of the Tamil armed groups, including the LTTE, is a bitter and abiding memory which the journalist Shamindra Ferdinando has written extensively about.

A creative suggestion made during the civil society discussion in Jaffna was for the provincial councils to implement what governments have promised to implement but have failed to do. An example given was that of reparations to war victims. The previous government pledged to set up a system of reparations in terms of the UNHRC resolution in 2015. But, although an Office for Reparations was established, very little was done. The question was whether the provincial councils in the north and east could not have utilised their resources for the purposes of instituting schemes of reparations as it would be clearly within the policy framework of the government.

While the issues in the TNA’s manifesto will remain perennial ones to the Tamil polity, the people are looking for political leaders who will deliver them the economic benefits in the same way as in the rest of the country. The civil society meetings in the north suggests that the northern people are not showing priority interest in political issues as they believe these are non-deliverable at the present time. Instead of using its majority status in parliament and seeking to abolish the 13th Amendment, and the provincial council system, and creating a crisis with the Tamil polity and India, the new government would do better to work through them to meet the material needs of the people. They need to also realize limits of the constitution, and focus on social, economic and political pluralism and promote values of tolerance, pragmatism, cooperation and compromise, and consent of the governed.

 

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Features

A blazing story!

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The local showbiz scene is ablaze with a story about the members of a particular band, who indicated that they are undergoing a tough time, abroad, because of the coronavirus pandemic.

It was a video, showing the members pouring forth their difficulties, and earnestly requesting the authorities concerned to bring them back home, that got others to move into action…and the truth has come out.

After having looked into their situation, extensively, knowledgeable sources say that the video contained a load of lies and, according to reports coming our way, the band has now been blacklisted by the authorities for lying about their situation.

These guys have, apparently, gone on Holiday Visas and have, thereby, contravened the Visa conditions.

The story going around is that they have had problems, within the band, as well.

The authorities, in Sri Lanka, are aware of the situation, in that part of the world, but there are many others who are waiting to get back home and, they say, musicians can’t get into the priority list.

So, it’s likely to be a long wait for these guys before they can check out their hometown again!

 

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Features

Top local stars to light up ARISE SRI LANKA

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Richard de Zoysa’s brainchild, ARISE SRI LANKA, is going to create an awesome atmosphere, not only locally, but abroad, as well.

This telethon event will feature the cream of Sri Lankan talent, said Richard, who is the Chairman of Elite Promotions & Entertainment (Pvt) Ltd.

Put together as a fund-raiser for those, in the frontline, tackling the coronavirus pandemic, in Sri Lanka, ARISE SRI LANKA will bring into the spotlight a galaxy of local stars, including Noeline Honter, Damian, Mahindakumar, Rukshan, Melantha, Jacky, Ranil Amirthiah, Mariazelle, Trishelle, Corinne, Sohan, Samista, Shean, Rajitha, Umara, April, Shafie, Dr. Nilanka Anjalee Wickramasinghe, Kevin, Ishini, and Donald.

Mirage is scheduled to open this live streaming fun-raiser, and they will back the artistes, assigned to do the first half of the show.

Sohan & The X-Periments will make their appearance, after the intermission, and they, too, will be backing a set of artistes, scheduled to do the second half.

The new look Aquarius group, led by bassist Benjy Ranabahu, will also be featured, and they will perform a very special song, originally done by The Eagles, titled ‘There’s A Whole In The World.’

The lyrics are very meaningful, especially in today’s context where the coronavirus pandemic has literally created holes, in every way, and in every part of the world.

Aquarius will be seen in a new setting, doing this particular song – no stage gimmicks, etc.

The finale, I’m told, will be a song composed by Noeline, with Melantha doing the musical arrangements, and titled ‘Arise Sri Lanka.’

The programme will include songs in Sinhala, and Tamil, as well, and will be streamed to many parts of the world, via TV and social media.

Richard says that this show, scheduled for August 29th, is in appreciation of the work done by the frontliners, to keep the pandemic, under control, in Sri Lanka.

“We, in Sri Lanka, can be proud of the fact that we were able to tackle the Covid-19 situation, to a great extent,” said Richard, adding that even the World Health Organisation (WHO) has acknowledged the fact that we have handled the coronavirus pandemic, in an exceptional way.

The team, helping Richard put together ARISE SRI LANKA, include Noeline Honter, Sohan Weerasinghe, Donald Pieries, from the group Mirage, Benjy Ranabahu, and the guy from The Island ‘Star Track.’

 

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