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 firstname.lastname@example.org, www.peopleforanimalsindia.org
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Islamophobia and the threat to democratic development
There’s an ill more dangerous and pervasive than the Coronavirus that’s currently sweeping Sri Lanka. That is the fear to express one’s convictions. Across the public sector of the country in particular many persons holding high office are stringently regulating and controlling the voices of their consciences and this bodes ill for all and the country.
The corrupting impact of fear was discussed in this column a couple of weeks ago when dealing with the military coup in Myanmar. It stands to the enduring credit of ousted Myanmarese Head of Government Aung San Suu Kyi that she, perhaps for the first time in the history of modern political thought, singled out fear, and not power, as the principal cause of corruption within the individual; powerful or otherwise.
To be sure, power corrupts but the corrupting impact of fear is graver and more devastating. For instance, the fear in a person holding ministerial office or in a senior public sector official, that he would lose position and power as a result of speaking out his convictions and sincere beliefs on matters of the first importance, would lead to a country’s ills going unaddressed and uncorrected.
Besides, the individual concerned would be devaluing himself in the eyes of all irrevocably and revealing himself to be a person who would be willing to compromise his moral integrity for petty worldly gain or a ‘mess of pottage’. This happens all the while in Lankan public life. Some of those who have wielded and are wielding immense power in Sri Lanka leave very much to be desired from these standards.
It could be said that fear has prevented Sri Lanka from growing in every vital respect over the decades and has earned for itself the notoriety of being a directionless country.
All these ills and more are contained in the current controversy in Sri Lanka over the disposal of the bodies of Covid victims, for example. The Sri Lankan polity has no choice but to abide by scientific advice on this question. Since authorities of the standing of even the WHO have declared that the burial of the bodies of those dying of Covid could not prove to be injurious to the wider public, the Sri Lankan health authorities could go ahead and sanction the burying of the bodies concerned. What’s preventing the local authorities from taking this course since they claim to be on the side of science? Who or what are they fearing? This is the issue that’s crying out to be probed and answered.
Considering the need for absolute truthfulness and honesty on the part of all relevant persons and quarters in matters such as these, the latter have no choice but to resign from their positions if they are prevented from following the dictates of their consciences. If they are firmly convinced that burials could bring no harm, they are obliged to take up the position that burials should be allowed.
If any ‘higher authority’ is preventing them from allowing burials, our ministers and officials are conscience-bound to renounce their positions in protest, rather than behave compromisingly and engage in ‘double think’ and ‘double talk’. By adopting the latter course they are helping none but keeping the country in a state of chronic uncertainty, which is a handy recipe for social instabiliy and division.
In the Sri Lankan context, the failure on the part of the quarters that matter to follow scientific advice on the burials question could result in the aggravation of Islamophobia, or hatred of the practitioners of Islam, in the country. Sri Lanka could do without this latter phobia and hatred on account of its implications for national stability and development. The 30 year war against separatist forces was all about the prevention by military means of ‘nation-breaking’. The disastrous results for Sri Lanka from this war are continuing to weigh it down and are part of the international offensive against Sri Lanka in the UNHCR.
However, Islamophobia is an almost world wide phenomenon. It was greatly strengthened during Donald Trump’s presidential tenure in the US. While in office Trump resorted to the divisive ruling strategy of quite a few populist authoritarian rulers of the South. Essentially, the manoeuvre is to divide and rule by pandering to the racial prejudices of majority communities.
It has happened continually in Sri Lanka. In the initial post-independence years and for several decades after, it was a case of some populist politicians of the South whipping-up anti-Tamil sentiments. Some Tamil politicians did likewise in respect of the majority community. No doubt, both such quarters have done Sri Lanka immeasurable harm. By failing to follow scientific advice on the burial question and by not doing what is right, Sri Lanka’s current authorities are opening themselves to the charge that they are pandering to religious extremists among the majority community.
The murderous, destructive course of action adopted by some extremist sections among Muslim communities world wide, including of course Sri Lanka, has not earned the condemnation it deserves from moderate Muslims who make-up the preponderant majority in the Muslim community. It is up to moderate opinion in the latter collectivity to come out more strongly and persuasively against religious extremists in their midst. It will prove to have a cementing and unifying impact among communities.
It is not sufficiently appreciated by governments in the global South in particular that by voicing for religious and racial unity and by working consistently towards it, they would be strengthening democratic development, which is an essential condition for a country’s growth in all senses.
A ‘divided house’ is doomed to fall; this is the lesson of history. ‘National security’ cannot be had without human security and peaceful living among communities is central to the latter. There cannot be any ‘double talk’ or ‘politically correct’ opinions on this question. Truth and falsehood are the only valid categories of thought and speech.
Those in authority everywhere claiming to be democratic need to adopt a scientific outlook on this issue as well. Studies conducted on plural societies in South Asia, for example, reveal that the promotion of friendly, cordial ties among communities invariably brings about healing among estranged groups and produces social peace. This is the truth that is waiting to be acted upon.
Pakistan’s love of Sri Lanka
By Sanjeewa Jayaweera
It was on 3rd January 1972 that our family arrived in Karachi from Moscow. Our departure from Moscow had been delayed for a few weeks due to the military confrontation between Pakistan and India. It ended on 16th December 1971. After that, international flights were not permitted for some time.
The contrast between Moscow and Karachi was unbelievable. First and foremost, Moscow’s temperature was near minus 40 degrees centigrade, while in Karachi, it was sunny and a warm 28 degrees centigrade. However, what struck us most was the extreme warmth with which the airport authorities greeted our family. As my father was a diplomat, we were quickly ushered to the airport’s VIP Lounge. We were in transit on our way to Rawalpindi, the airport serving the capital of Islamabad.
We quickly realized that the word “we are from Sri Lanka” opened all doors just as saying “open sesame” gained entry to Aladdin’s cave! The broad smile, extreme courtesy, and genuine warmth we received from the Pakistani people were unbelievable.
This was all to do with Mrs Sirima Bandaranaike’s decision to allow Pakistani aircraft to land in Colombo to refuel on the way to Dhaka in East Pakistan during the military confrontation between Pakistan and India. It was a brave decision by Mrs Bandaranaike (Mrs B), and the successive governments and Sri Lanka people are still enjoying the fruits of it. Pakistan has been a steadfast and loyal supporter of our country. They have come to our assistance time and again in times of great need when many have turned their back on us. They have indeed been an “all-weather” friend of our country.
Getting back to 1972, I was an early beneficiary of Pakistani people’s love for Sri Lankans. I failed the entrance exam to gain entry to the only English medium school in Islamabad! However, when I met the Principal, along with my father, he said, “Sanjeewa, although you failed the entrance exam, I will this time make an exception as Sri Lankans are our dear friends.” After that, the joke around the family dinner table was that I owed my education in Pakistan to Mrs B!
At school, my brother and I were extended a warm welcome and always greeted “our good friends from Sri Lanka.” I felt when playing cricket for our college; our runs were cheered more loudly than of others.
One particular incident that I remember well was when the Embassy received a telex from the Foreign inistry. It requested that our High Commissioner seek an immediate meeting with the Prime Minister of Pakistan, Mr Zulifikar Ali Bhutto (ZB), and convey a message from Mrs B. The message requested that an urgent shipment of rice be dispatched to Sri Lanka as there would be an imminent rice shortage. As the Ambassador was not in the station, the responsibility devolved on my father.
It usually takes about a week or more to get an audience with the Prime Minister (PM) of a foreign country due to their busy schedule. However, given the urgency, my father spoke to the Foreign Ministry’s Permanent Sectary, who fortunately was our neighbour and sought an urgent appointment. My father received a call from the PM’s secretary around 10 P.M asking him to come over to the PM’s residence. My father met ZB around midnight. ZB was about to retire to bed and, as such, was in his pyjamas and gown enjoying a cigar! He had greeted my father and had asked, “Mr Jayaweera, what can we do for great friend Madam Bandaranaike?. My father conveyed the message from Colombo and quietly mentioned that there would be riots in the country if there is no rice!
ZB had immediately got the Food Commissioner of Pakistan on the line and said, “I want a shipload of rice to be in Colombo within the next 72 hours!” The Food Commissioner reverted within a few minutes, saying that nothing was available and the last export shipment had left the port only a few hours ago to another country. ZB had instructed to turn the ship around and send it to Colombo. This despite protests from the Food Commissioner about terms and conditions of the Letter of Credit prohibiting non-delivery. Sri Lanka got its delivery of rice!
The next was the visit of Mrs B to Pakistan. On arrival in Rawalpindi airport, she was given a hero’s welcome, which Pakistan had previously only offered to President Gaddafi of Libya, who financially backed Pakistan with his oil money. That day, I missed school and accompanied my parents to the airport. On our way, we witnessed thousands of people had gathered by the roadside to welcome Mrs B.
When we walked to the airport’s tarmac, thousands of people were standing in temporary stands waving Sri Lanka and Pakistan flags and chanting “Sri Lanka Pakistan Zindabad.” The noise emanating from the crowd was as loud and passionate as the cheering that the Pakistani cricket team received during a test match. It was electric!
I believe she was only the second head of state given the privilege of addressing both assemblies of Parliament. The other being Gaddafi. There was genuine affection from Mrs B amongst the people of Pakistan.
I always remember the indefatigable efforts of Mr Abdul Haffez Kardar, a cabinet minister and the President of the Pakistan Cricket Board. From around 1973 onwards, he passionately championed Sri Lanka’s cause to be admitted as a full member of the International Cricket Council (ICC) and granted test status. Every year, he would propose at the ICC’s annual meeting, but England and Australia’s veto kept us out until 1981.
I always felt that our Cricket Board made a mistake by not inviting Pakistan to play our inaugural test match. We should have appreciated Mr Kardar and Pakistan’s efforts. In 1974 the Pakistan board invited our team for a tour involving three test matches and a few first-class games. Most of those who played in our first test match was part of that tour, and no doubt gained significant exposure playing against a highly talented Pakistani team.
Several Pakistani greats were part of the Pakistan and India team that played a match soon after the Central Bank bomb in Colombo to prove that it was safe to play cricket in Colombo. It was a magnificent gesture by both Pakistan and India. Our greatest cricket triumph was in Pakistan when we won the World Cup in 1996. I am sure the players and those who watched the match on TV will remember the passionate support our team received that night from the Pakistani crowd. It was like playing at home!
I also recall reading about how the Pakistani government air freighted several Multi Barrell artillery guns and ammunition to Sri Lanka when the A rmy camp in Jaffna was under severe threat from the LTTE. This was even more important than the shipload of rice that ZB sent. This was crucial as most other countries refused to sell arms to our country during the war.
Time and again, Pakistan has steadfastly supported our country’s cause at the UNHCR. No doubt this year, too, their diplomats will work tirelessly to assist our country.
We extend a warm welcome to Mr Imran Khan, the Prime Minister of Pakistan. He is a truly inspirational individual who was undoubtedly an excellent cricketer. Since retirement from cricket, he has decided to get involved in politics, and after several years of patiently building up his support base, he won the last parliamentary elections. I hope that just as much as he galvanized Sri Lankan cricketers, his political journey would act as a catalyst for people like Kumar Sangakkara and Mahela Jayawardene to get involved in politics. Cricket has been called a “gentleman’s game.” Whilst politics is far from it!.
Covid-19 health rules disregarded at entertainment venues?
Believe me, seeing certain videos, on social media, depicting action, on the dance floor, at some of these entertainment venues, got me wondering whether this Coronavirus pandemic is REAL!
To those having a good time, at these particular venues, and, I guess, the management, as well, what the world is experiencing now doesn’t seem to be their concerned.
Obviously, such irresponsible behaviour could create more problems for those who are battling to halt the spread of Covid-19, and the new viriant of Covid, in our part of the world.
The videos, on display, on social media, show certain venues, packed to capacity – with hardly anyone wearing a mask, and social distancing…only a dream..
How can one think of social distancing while gyrating, on a dance floor, that is over crowded!
If this trend continues, it wouldn’t be a surprise if Coronavirus makes its presence felt…at such venues.
And, then, what happens to the entertainment scene, and those involved in this field, especially the musicians? No work, whatsoever!
Lots of countries have closed nightclubs, and venues, where people gather, in order to curtail the spread of this deadly virus that has already claimed the lives of thousands.
Thailand did it and the country is still having lots of restrictions, where entertainment is concerned, and that is probably the reason why Thailand has been able to control the spread of the Coronavirus.
With a population of over 69 million, they have had (so far), a little over 25,000 cases, and 83 deaths, while we, with a population of around 21 million, have over 80,000 cases, and more than 450 deaths.
I’m not saying we should do away with entertainment – totally – but we need to follow a format, connected with the ‘new normal,’ where masks and social distancing are mandatory requirements at these venues. And, dancing, I believe, should be banned, at least temporarily, as one can’t maintain the required social distance, while on the dance floor, especially after drinks.
Police spokesman DIG Ajith Rohana keeps emphasising, on TV, radio, and in the newspapers, the need to adhere to the health regulations, now in force, and that those who fail to do so would be penalised.
He has also stated that plainclothes officers would move around to apprehend such offenders.
Perhaps, he should instruct his officers to pay surprise visits to some of these entertainment venues.
He would certainly have more than a bus load of offenders to be whisked off for PCR/Rapid Antigen tests!
I need to quote what Dr. H.T. Wickremasinghe said in his article, published in The Island of Tuesday, February 16th, 2021:
“…let me conclude, while emphasising the need to continue our general public health measures, such as wearing masks, social distancing, and avoiding crowded gatherings, to reduce the risk of contact with an infected person.
“There is no science to beat common sense.”
But…do some of our folks have this thing called COMMON SENSE!