From ‘Who’s in charge of bird nuisance?’, 27 Dec 2011, article by Ng Puay Leng, Today online
Birds continue to be a source of problem in areas of dense population in Singapore but as Channel NewsAsia finds out, it’s been a challenge pinning down the relevant authorities in charge of the problem. Crows come under the purview of the National Environment Agency (NEA) while the Agri-Food & Veterinary Authority of Singapore (AVA) handles complaints of nuisance with pigeons.
But it gets a little complicated when it comes to mynahs. When Channel NewsAsia visited a coffee shop at Bishan Street 11, mynahs were seen picking at leftovers. Stall holders said the number of mynahs in their coffee shop has more than doubled in the past two years.
And when they approached the NEA and AVA, both agencies said they are not in charge of handling the birds.
Before the NEA or AVA started pushing bird problems to one another, we had the Primary Production Department (PPD), which was responsible for exterminating all nuisance birds (crows, pigeons, mynahs). In 1979, one crow culling job was contracted to the SAF, with tragi-comic results as two bystanders were shot in the face and leg respectively by stray pellets. In the 1980s, the PPD used water jets to hose down mynahs, which didn’t kill them so much as scatter them and stop them from tweeting. Even members of the SINGAPORE GUN CLUB were roped in (and still are today) to shoot crows in nests or flying over rooftops when they’re not training for events like ‘Olympic trap’ and ‘skeet’, simply because the authorities wanted sharpshooters for the dirty work but couldn’t trust the SAF based on past experience. In 2003, a crow-culling scandal ruffled the feathers of the NEA when a former national shooter from the club cheated the authority by collecting multiple rewards ($5 per dead bird) using the same carcass (which goes to show how well our shooters were paid at the time). Futile, mercenary, cruel, dangerous and wasteful methods of pest control aside, at least we knew who to call in the past, whether it’s a complaint of bird droppings, relentless squawking or swooping Angry Bird-like attacks on innocent pedestrians.
In 2000, the PPD morphed into the stat board we know today as AVA, which means the crow problem was relinquished and pushed to the NEA for some reason. Are crows greater ‘noise pollutants’ than pigeons or mynahs hence qualifying them under NEA’s purview, and are pigeons more likely to spread diseases like avian flu through droppings hence remained under AVA? Not really. In 2008, the H5N1 virus was detected in a dead crow in Hong Kong. Which means one can’t explain this split without reasoning that crows are badder, uglier, less likely to have animal lovers up in arms, hence classified as less of a living thing than a scourge and pollutant like a fungi invasion or an oil spill i.e the division of responsibility was for sentimental reasons. You see kids throwing breadcrumbs at pigeons, not crows. Pigeons fly out of magician hats and are featured in Disney movies like Enchanted, not crows. In a recent Japanese study however, crows were proven to rather intelligent creatures with a long term memory of up to a year, which means you can’t use ‘bird-brained’ in the imbecilic context like we used to. Nobody knows how mynahs, which look like shaven little crows, should be treated. More than a 1000 of them roost along Orchard Road, and you can’t do a clean job without removing trees altogether or sealing off a busy shopping zone for a shooting spree.
According to the Wild Animals and Birds Act in 1974, all wild birds were protected by law with the exception of the ‘house crow’, which is like a fatwa against a renown noisy scavenger bird, a free for all for anyone with a catapult or air pistol at the time. Today, the Wild Animals and Birds Act is helmed by the AVA, and the list of feathered pests which you’re legally exempt from penalty for capturing, killing or trapping for food has expanded to the following:
- House crow (Corvus splendens)
- Feral pigeon (Columba livia)
- Purple-backed starling (Sturnus sturninus)
- Philippine glossy starling (Aplonis panayensis)
- Common myna (Acridotheres tristis)
- White-vented myna (Acridotheres javanicus)
Given an order to kill all 4 birds in sequence, I’d have to go with crow, mynah, starling then pigeon according to cuteness factor, though the last bird is likely the most edible. According to the law, I would not be committing an offense if I go around hacking these birds with a chopper. The Act doesn’t, however, say anything about the authority’s role in pest control of these ‘scheduled’ birds, which means, in the absence of any natural predators or if Gun club members decide not to become bird bounty hunters, one possible last resort to bring down the numbers is for more Singaporeans to take up trapping during the non-avian flu season and start appreciating roast feral pigeon or braised crow than buying hormone-laced broiler chicken from the supermarkets. Or, we could just clean up after we’re done at hawker centres, stop wasting food, and cease making stray cats obese by spoiling them with Whiskers.