FOR many decades, Sree Maha Mariamman Devasthanam Temple devotees in Jalan Tokong Lama, off Jalan Jeti Lama, Butterworth, have been feeding the thousands of pigeons which called the area home.
Rice, cakes and bird seeds will be scattered on the ground and the pigeons on street poles and roofs would come down to eat the food.
However, an operation on Friday by the Seberang Prai Municipal Council (MPSP) to remove some of the pigeons had caused an uproar among some temple devotees.
Housewife H. Rajeswary, 62, said the birds should be left alone as they cause no harm.
“I moved to Butterworth after getting married in 1974, and every time I visit the temple, I'll feed these pigeons.
“I feel that it's a pity that some of the birds had to be caught with a net and taken away from the area. A few which were injured in the process were left to die on the ground," she said when met at the temple.
Store assistant P. Srinivasan, 43, said he fed the pigeons almost every day and would pray at the temple occasionally.
“Between breaks during work, I'll come on my bicycle with a packet of rice to feed the pigeons as they are a peaceful distraction.
“The birds will come to feed when they see me.
“They are used to being around people,” he said.
But business traders in the vicinity do not share the sentiments of the devotees.
A sundry shop owner, who declined to be named, said the birds were a menace and they would defecate all over the window grilles and the cars parked nearby.
“When the birds take off all at once, their flapping wings blow the dust on the ground into my shop.
“The stench of poop will also be all over the area and it is unbearable at times.
“I think it is unhealthy to breathe in the air when they are around,” he said.
When contacted, MPSP councillor David Marshel said the council conducted the ‘pigeon catching’ operation following numerous complaints from residents.
“It is not about religion but a cleanliness issue. People will dump food in the open car park area to feed the pigeons.
“The uneaten food will dirty the car park and pigeons will fly and poop on the cars and also on the properties nearby,” he said.
Marshel said the enforcement officers had met with the temple's committee members and they allowed them to proceed with the operation.
“We will only catch some of the pigeons to keep the population under control. The birds will be kept for two days before we released them far away in Bukit Mertajam,” he added.
The 162-year-old temple was founded by a group of women back in 1853, before its first consecration in 1903.