Breaking the habit of pigeon feeding

With a doubling in the number of people being fined for feeding pigeons, what can be done to reverse the trend?
Lim Jia Qi, 938LIVE Channel NewsAsia 9 Mar 16;

SINGAPORE: At around 7pm every evening, dozens of pigeons congregate between blocks 34 and 36 of Circuit Road in MacPherson. Some perch on the railings, others just hop around on the pavement – waiting for their dinner.

Residents said it is the same person who gives them an evening meal. An elderly woman, who appears to be in her 80s, usually comes by at that time with a red trolley loaded with food and water.

On this occasion, she dumped a large bowl of cooked rice on the grass patch to feed her feathered friends.

When asked why she is doing this, the woman, who also feeds cats from her trolley, said in Mandarin: "(The pigeons) want to snatch the cats' food. Actually I don't want to feed them. I'm already in my 80s, I'm not working, I don't have money to buy food for them to eat."

She declined to be named or answer further questions.

But her generosity to the pigeons is well known to people in the area, and some of them are annoyed. A resident, who only wanted to be known as Ms Nur, said she has complained to the authorities many times but the problem persists.

"We have been complaining for eight years, not only us but other neighbours around here have been complaining...sometimes it's very smelly," she said.

Mr Koh, a resident who has been living in MacPherson for seven years, added that there should be greater enforcement.

"(The town council) should fine that person who's feeding the pigeons. But they don't dare to give the fine to them. Because there's no enforcement, that's why the person keeps repeating the habits."

The elderly woman is also not a stranger to the town council. MP for MacPherson SMC, Ms Tin Pei Ling, said her team has been engaging the elderly woman on "a very regular basis".

Ms Tin added that the woman, who lives alone, has also been fined four times since 2008. She still has three outstanding fines amounting to S$700.

"She's just unable to pay because she's single, she's alone, and she's very low-income. She's on social welfare essentially. So given this history, this track record, I don't think continuing issuing fines on her will have a very big impact," said Ms Tin.

Nonetheless, Ms Tin said her team will step up efforts to persuade the woman to stop feeding the pigeons.

"She'll stop for a while and then it'll happen again. Even with the fines, she continues. Because she's low-income and she's so old, I think any harsher action beyond the fine may be too harsh on her. But for the town council and the grassroots, we'll continue to engage her, try to dissuade her, and hopefully we'll be able to convince her to stop feeding the pigeons."

Ms Tin added that the town council conducts a weekly pigeon culling exercise to help control the problem and she seeks her residents' understanding on the matter.

FINES BEING HANDED OUT MORE OFTEN

Those found guilty of feeding pigeons can be fined up to S$500. But the possibility of a financial penalty does not discourage everyone. About 130 fines were handed out by the Agri-Food and Veterinary Authority (AVA) of Singapore in 2015, double the number in 2014.

About 4,000 complaints about pigeon-related problems were received in 2015, 60 per cent more than 2014. The complaints included hygiene issues arising from the spread of pigeon droppings.

Dr Leong Hoe Nam, an infectious diseases specialist from Mount Elizabeth Novena Hospital, said pigeons can spread several diseases such as cryptococcosis, a fungal infection that affects the lungs.

"The droppings of the pigeons are poisonous. They can drop and land in the environment where we live in. They get dried and thereafter become airborne. The germs will float into the air and into the environment and you can breathe in, causing infection in human beings."

To control the pigeon population, AVA piloted a new "birth control" method at Palmer Road last year. The programme involves feeding the pigeons a corn-based feed containing nicarbazin, a drug that functions as an oral contraceptive for birds.

A trial was also started at Choa Chu Kang last year, which involves the use of a gel substance to prevent birds from roosting on ledges.

But while awareness of the risks has grown and more people are being fined, other approaches are being used to manage the problem.

EDUCATION A USEFUL WEAPON TO STOP PIGEON FEEDING

At Jalan Besar GRC, the town council does not issue any fines to residents who are caught feeding pigeons. Instead, the council uses a multi-pronged approach to educate people, said MP for Jalan Besar GRC Lily Neo.

"I think fines may not work as well. I think we should have various methods together or various initiatives to put together to try to solve this more holistically. By combining the circulars, notice board messages, and of course we also try to see whether we can prevent the pigeons from resting at certain areas or concentrating at certain areas," said Dr Neo who is also chairman of the town council.

The approach has resulted in a change in the behaviour of 83-year-old Low Yip Cheong, who has been feeding pigeons for the past two months. He had been throwing rice out of the window of his second-floor apartment.

"I see the pigeons have nothing to eat. They are starving. It's the same when humans are hungry, they also hope that other people can spare them some food. If the government doesn't want us to feed the pigeons, I'll cooperate, I'll see whether there will be fewer pigeons," said Mr Low, who lives with his wife.

Dr Neo said the town council will also install bird netting at certain blocks in April to prevent pigeons from roosting on air-con ledges.

With fines not working in all cases, it is this kind of approach which may see the pigeon problem fly away for good.

- 938LIVE/cy

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