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Lies about pigeons



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.

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Sinharaja world heritage



Conservation Outlook Assessment: Significant Concern

By Professor Emeritus Nimal Gunatilleke

Continued from Yesterday


Water diverted from Ampanagala reservoir to Muruthawela will be used to meet the irrigation deficit of Muruthawela and Kirama Oya systems and the balance will be transferred to Chandrika Wewa, through existing LB canal of Muruthawela scheme up to 13.8 km and a new canal of 17.0 km. After that, the water requirement of Hambantota harbour is to be transferred to Ridiyagama tank through the Walawe river and Liyangasthota anicuit. However, due to the extreme length of the diversion through the three-river basins of Nilwala, Kirama Ara and Urubokka Oya, it will lead to a massive conveyance losses of the diverted water while on the way to the Walawe basin. Furthermore, enormous costs associated with its construction, a failure to fully realise the intended outcomes due to a shortage of water budget will simply be a burden that Sri Lanka cannot afford with her current economic condition, according to Eng. Prema Hettiarachchi. It may be worth recording that the water ingress into the grouted tunnel of the Uma Oya near Ella has still not been fully repaired, even though the Uma Oya project is nearing completion. An expensive lesson to be learnt on the nature of the weathered geological structure, lineaments and implementing its unexpected and costly mitigatory measures which will eventually to be paid back by this and future generations of tax payers of this country.

According to the Irrigation Department web site postings, Mahaweli Consultancy Bureau has initiated the Environment Impact Assessment (EIA), but due to the unavailability of concurrence of the Forest Department, revised TOR has not been issued by the CEA. Therefore, due to the unavailability of updated TOR, the EIA study has been delayed.

Environmentally, the most contentious issue highlighted in the news media is the proposed construction of a RCC dam at Madugeta to build a reservoir for which around 79 ha of forested (and some agricultural) lands in Sinharaja and a portion of prisine riverine forest in Dellawa would be inundated. On the Sinharaja side of the proposed Madugeta reservoir (right abutment) at present there are home gardens and small-scale tea plantations in addition to good riverine forests. In contrast however, proportionately a larger area of luxuriant forest of Dellawa, which is a part of the new ‘Sinharaja Rain Forest Complex’ would go under the chain saw for this reservoir construction (left abutment). The Geo-engineering report of May 2019 on GNDP has revised the siting of the dam to a more favourable location with supposedly reduced impacts but they forewarn that the three core-drilling along the proposed dam axis that had to be temporarily abandoned due to protests made by the villagers, need to be completed to confirm the geological suitability for the dam site.


Are there any Environment-Friendly Alternative Options?

As an alternative site for a dam on Gin Ganga, Eng. Nandasoma Atukorale (Specialist Engineer [Hydropower]) has proposed a location at the confluence of Mahadola with Gin Ganga at the village of Mederipitiya, way back in 2006. According to him, the riverbed at this site is 261 masl and have a catchment area of 132 km2. He proposes the construction of a 35 m high concrete gravity type dam that would form a reservoir with a storage capacity of 65 million cu.m and a potential discharge of 320 million cu.m of water annually which could divert 293 million cu. m of water to the SE Dry Zone. Most importantly, this region passes through a relatively narrow section of the river which is ideally suited for a dam according to him. However, geological suitability and socio-economic impacts of local communities need to be investigated, beforehand.

Quite interestingly, Eng. Athukorale claims that ‘although it is not economically very attractive, another 200 million cu.m of water could be diverted to the Nilwala basin by constructing a dam across Gin Ganga at the downstream of the confluence with Dellawa Dola at the village of Madugeta, with an 8000 m long tunnel which could be considered at a later stage provided further water shortages are experienced in the area’.


Now that the proposed Madugeta reservoir is receiving heavy criticisms from the environmental front, wonder whether Mederipitiya option proposed by Eng. Athukorale could be revisited for the diversion of Gin-Nilwala river water to the SE Dry Zone.

In a research paper titled ‘Comparison of Alternative Proposals for Domestic and Industrial Water Supply for Hambantota Industrial Development Zone’ Eng. Prema Hettiarachchi makes a comparison among three irrigation projects Kukule Ganga, Gin-Nilwala and Wey Ganga to convey water from the SW wet zone to SE dry zone.

She proposes yet another option that is probably still on the drawing boards to be considered which is the Wey Ganga diversion in Ratnapura District. According to her, this could meet the industrial and drinking water requirement (154 MCM + drinking water) of Hambantota metropolitan area at a significantly lower cost and with less damage to the environment. Further, there is a possibility of augmenting this scheme by diverting a part of Kalu Ganga catchment at a later stage.

Eng. Hettiarachchi further states that ‘by comparing the workload, it could be estimated to be nearly one third that of the Gin-Nilwala diversion. The Wey Ganga diversion can be carried out at a significantly lower cost by local agencies. That can also address the water scarcity of Hambantota metropolitan area including the requirements of international harbour and proposed industrial development zone with the relatively less environmental damage which is a major issue with respect to large scale projects. Construction period will also be less since the workload is less and can be carried out by the local agencies’.

What I have strived to show with this detailed irrigation engineering information available on public domain in the form of research publications, is that the Madugeta reservoir option is not the only one available for taking water from the wet zone rivers to the SE Dry Zone which is indeed a legitimate requirement for agricultural and industrial development of that region.

Pre-feasibility studies have been conducted on these options since 1968 and a considerable wealth of technical information is already available with the Irrigation Department. Apparently, according to knowledgeable irrigation engineers, there are more environmentally friendly, and cost-effective options with greater assurance of water conveyance to the SE Dry Zone available for consideration. It is often the case that during pre-feasibility studies of these large engineering projects, environmental concerns are given the least priority. Steady supply of water during extreme drought events which are becoming more frequent depends very much on the nature of the vegetation cover of the watershed area. These environmental aspects need to be critically evaluated before such costly projects are designed. As an example, although, the major engineering work of the Uma Oya project has been almost completed, its cost-effectiveness is yet to be seen with a denuded watershed, a potential of heavy soil erosion on top of the unexpected heavy expenditure on tunnel boring and other engineering works.

Biologically speaking, the Dellawa Forest Reserve is an integral part of Sinharaja Rain Forest Complex representing the pristine climax forest vegetation of SE wet lowlands and provide a vital connectivity link to adjoining Diyadawa forest of equal significance via the remains of Dombagoda forest. Therefore, clearing a riverine strip of this forest for the construction of Madugeta Reservoir would lead to an irreparable and irreplaceable damage to its characteristic riverine/flood plain forest vegetation.

On the other hand, pledging a reforestation initiative of a much larger area with Hevea rubber as a compensatory measure proposed by the political administration is totally unacceptable. Preserving intact forests in protected areas has no substitutes or replacements. Furthermore, the Natural Heritage Wilderness Area act and the binding articles of the UNESCO Convention on Protection of the World Cultural and Natural Heritage to which Sri Lanka is a signatory, clearly state that causing direct or indirect damage to a natural heritage is legally not permissible.

In summary, the Sinharaja World Heritage Site is already in a state whose biological values are threatened and/or are showing signs of deterioration and significant additional conservation measures have been recommended to restore these values over the medium and long term. Adding more threats like the construction of reservoirs inside protected areas at this stage would inevitably downgrade the values further to a ‘critical conservation outlook’ which is not what the citizenry of Sri Lanka and the world at large would acknowledge as ‘sustainable development’.

The author of this article is a member of the National Sustainable Development Council of Sri Lanka and he thanks Dr Jagath Gunathilaka of Peradeniya University for providing the geotechnical information described herein. The author can be contacted at .)


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US seeking way out of Afghan killing field



As the Biden administration makes its initial moves to extricate the US’ remaining security forces personnel from Afghanistan, it would do well to ponder on former US President John F. Kennedy’s insightful comment on foreign policy: ‘Domestic policy can only defeat us; foreign policy can kill us.’ This is a rare nugget on the nature of foreign policy.

Considering the high costs, human and economic, a country could incur as a result of blundering on its foreign policy front, Kennedy could be said to have spoken for all countries. However, there is no denying that the comment is particularly applicable to expansionist powers or ‘hegemonic’ states.

Sensible opinion is likely to be of the view that the US decision on quitting Afghanistan should have come very much earlier; may be a couple of years after its bloody misadventure in the conflict and war-ridden country. Considering the terribly high human costs in particular the US’ 20 long years in Afghanistan have incurred, the US could be said to have committed one of its worst foreign policy blunders, overshadowing in severity the blood-letting incurred by the super power in Vietnam. However, in both theatres, the consequences for the US have been of unbearable magnitude.

The US death toll speaks for itself. At the time of writing more than 2,300 US security forces personnel have been killed and over 20,000 injured in Afghanistan. Reports indicate that over 450 Britons have died in the same quagmire along with hundreds of similar personnel from numerous other nationalities. Apparently, it took an exceptionally long period of time for the US to realize that Afghanistan for it was a lost cause.

The lesson that the US and other expansionist powers ought to come to grips with is that it would not be an ‘easy ride’ for them in the complex conflict and war zones of the South. The ground realities in these theatres are of mind-boggling complexity and Afghanistan drives this point home with notable harshness. Power projection in South-west Asia and persistence with its ‘war on terror’ were among the apparent prime objectives of the US in Afghanistan as well as in Iraq but what the US did not evidently take into consideration before these military involvements were the internal political realities of these countries that are not at all amenable to simplistic analyses and policy prescriptions.

The Soviets ought to have come to grips with some features of the treacherous political terrain presented by Afghanistan in the late eighties but their principal preoccupations were related more to the compulsions of the Cold War. Simply put, the Soviets were bent on preserving the ‘satellite’ status of Afghanistan and their war effort was aimed at this in the main. Preparing Afghanistan for democracy was not even least among the Soviet Union’s concerns, of course.

However, the same does not apply to the US. The latter helped the Mujaheddin in the task of getting rid of the Soviet presence in Afghanistan but its aim was also to have a US-friendly regime in Kabul that would be a veritable bridgehead of US power and influence in the region on a continuous basis. In other words, the US expected the regime which replaced the Soviets to be pro-Western and essentially democracy-friendly. The US did not in any way bargain to have in Afghanistan Islamic fundamentalist regimes whose political philosophies were the anti-thesis of democracy as perceived in the US and practised by it.

However, the Islamic fundamentalist Taliban regime which eventually came to power in the mid-nineties in Afghanistan, once the Soviets withdrew, defied all Western expectations. As is known, the Taliban was not only repressive and undemocratic but was staunchly opposed to everything Western. There were no hopes of the Taliban working towards Western interests. Besides, the US did not expect to see in Afghanistan a country dangerously divided on ethnic, tribal and religious lines. The problems of Afghanistan have been compounded over the years by the coming together of the Taliban and the Al-Qaeda and these groups have world wide Islamic fundamentalist links.

It has been the aim of the US to have in Kabul religiously moderate, pro-democratic regimes but as developments have proved over the past few decades these administrations have not been in a position to hold out against the Taliban. In fact, it is the Taliban that is veritably at the helm of power in Afghanistan currently and years of futile attempts at trying to contain the Taliban have brought home to the US and its allies that they have no choice but to talk to the Taliban in order to secure some respite to effect ‘an honourable exit’ from the bloodied land. This is where matters stand at present.

However, as pointed out by commentators, it is the Afghan civilian population that has suffered most in the decades-long blood-letting in the country. Conservative estimates put the number of Afghan security forces personnel killed in Afghanistan at around 60,000 to date and the number of civilians killed at double that figure.

Accordingly, the Afghan people would be left to face an uncertain and highly risk-riddled future when the last of the US security forces personnel and their allies leave Afghanistan in September this year. The country would be left to its own devices and considering that the Taliban will likely be the dominant formation in the country and not its legitimate government, the lot of Afghan civilians is bound to be heart-rending.

There is plenty to ponder on for the US and other democratic countries in the agonies of Afghanistan. One lesson that offers itself is that not all countries of the South are ‘ready for democracy’. This applies to very many countries of the South that already claim to be democracies in the Western sense. Southern ‘democratic’ polities defy easy analysis and categorization in consideration of the multitude of identity markers they present along with the legitimacy that they have achieved in the eyes of their states and populations. What we have are dangerously volatile states riddled with contradictions. Relating to them will prove to be highly problematic for the rest of the world.

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The Soul



The Soul (also known as Ji hun) is based on the sci-fi novel ‘Soul Transfer’, written by Jiang Bo in 2012. The novel was widely popular and inspired director Cheng Wei-Hao to adapt the tale into a movie. The story is about a married couple who are determined to uncover the truth behind strange activities in their community. According to the official synopsis for the film from Netflix, while investigating the death of a businessman, a prosecutor and his wife uncover occult secrets as they face their own life-and-death dilemma. The film stars Chang Chen, Janine Chang and Christopher Lee among others.

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