Stop feeding pigeons to curb diseases, urges expert


GEORGE TOWN: When pigeons flutter about while feeding, people should not be near them to avoid inhaling their feather dust or coming into contact with their faeces, says a wildlife expert.

Universiti Sains Malaysia (USM) zoologist, primatologist and conservation biologist Dr Nadine Ruppert said pigeons could harbour E. coli and salmonella bacteria, some of which could pose serious health risks.

ALSO READ: Penang’s booming pigeon population a menace to health

“The public should also pigeon-proof their houses and buildings because the accumulation of their faeces will become exponential once a flock of pigeons starts nesting there,” she said.

The senior lecturer said pigeons could also be reservoirs of zoonotic (animal-transmitted) diseases caused by viruses, endoparasites and ectoparasites, fungi and protozoa.

She said bacteria and fungi in their faeces could get airborne when the faeces dried up and became dust, and people would inhale these particles.

“Disease transmissions from pigeons might not be common but immuno-compromised patients, children and the elderly will face more risk than others,” she added.

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Dr Nadine said among the health issues that could be caused by the birds were tuberculosis, bird flu, Lyme disease and others such as ornithosis, campylobacteriosis, histoplasmosis and cryptococcosis.

She also urged the public to never feed pigeons or any other wildlife, noting that this could cause immense problems for both animals and humans.

“People are not aware that they cause severe harm to the animals, such as harmful dietary habits, overcrowding, which could then lead to aggression, stress, elevated disease transmission and consequently, culling by the authorities.

“Even stray or feral cats and dogs should only be fed under controlled conditions and with a combined neutering approach so that they don’t breed in the streets,” she said.

Dr Nadine added that local authorities should consider imposing heavy fines against feeding wildlife.

She said simply culling wildlife like pigeons, crows and monkeys without addressing the underlying problem was however not a solution.

“There is no effort to educate or penalise the people causing this problem.

“It’s often the animals which end up paying the price with their lives for our misguided ‘compassion’,” she said.

USM virology scientist Dr Muhammad Amir Yunus said diseases commonly transmitted by pigeons were skin-related, owing to fungal spores growing in their faeces.

“People are encouraged to wear masks when they are close to the birds and to wear gloves if they want to touch them,” he added.

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