Pigeons take over abandoned homes

Something to tweet about: Shamsul Rizam taking a closer look at the living room of an abandoned Rifle Range flat unit. To the left, under the cupboard is a newly hatched bird that is still alive. — CHAN BOON KAI/The Star

GEORGE TOWN: Hundreds of pigeons have turned several abandoned units in Rifle Range Flats here into biohazards.

The birds have formed colonies after gaining access through broken windows and doors over the years.

There are now a thick carpet of droppings and carcasses on the floor of these units.

Worse still, foreigners enter these units to harvest fledgling pigeons or squabs, a delicacy for them.

“I saw two Bangladeshi men going in and when I questioned them, they said they wanted to collect baby pigeons to boil soup.

“They claimed baby pigeon soup is a good tonic. I told them to go away,” said prisons officer Shamsul Rizam Shahidan, 38, who lives next door to the 16th-floor unit colonised by pigeons.

Five years ago, Shamsul Rizam was transferred to Penang and bought a Rifle Range Flats unit for RM49,000.

Shortly after moving in with his wife and son, he became aware of the reek of bird dung wafting out of the vacant unit beside his.

He also said there was a constant chorus of pigeons cooing.

He brought a team from The Star to visit the unit recently.

The floor was found completely covered in aged pigeon dung, feathers and broken eggshells, almost 10cm thick in some places.

Scattered around were 26 pigeon carcasses, some with just skeletons and feathers remaining. There were also seven eggs and one newly-hatched bird – still alive – lying on the carpet of dung.

One of the bedroom windows was broken, allowing the birds to form a colony there.

“The door to this unit was closed but never locked. The foreigners who harvested baby pigeons actually padlocked the door. That was why I decided to see what was going on,” said Shamsul Rizam.

He said his wife recently lodged a complaint with state Housing Department and was told that the matter would be looked into.

He also appealed to Socialist Progressive Front (SPF), a political action group, for help.

SPF founding member and former Tanjung Bungah assemblyman Teh Yee Cheu said from residents’ complaints, he knew of at least three abandoned flat units taken over by pigeons.

“These pigeon colonies are a serious health hazard. They can spread bacteria, viruses and pests such as ticks.

“The majority of Rifle Range Flats residents are senior citizens who are vulnerable to disease outbreaks. We hope the authorities can quickly resolve this,” he said.

Fellow SPF founding member and former journalist Chua Cheong Wee said although such flat units were privately owned, there are laws that empower the state to enter and eliminate such health hazards.

“That’s all the residents want. Why is it taking so long?” Chua asked.

State Housing Committee chairman Jagdeep Singh Deo said the state had received the complaints and was looking into it.

“We are checking on all vacant units to see how many are infested with pigeons.

“There is a legal process in which we must follow to give owners or their heirs fair warning.

“If they don’t heed us, then the city council will have the power to eliminate the problem and charge the owners for it,” he said.

Built in 1969, the 3,699 units of Rifle Range Flats were the first high-rise low-cost flats in Penang meant for the urban poor.

Some of the units became private property through a form of hire-purchase scheme given to the original dwellers while the state owns a portion of units, which are leased to the poor.

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