Monday, January 23, 2006

Pigeon Culling in Turkey Ruffles Feathers

Once again, the only solution they go for is to kill.

Pigeon culling in Turkey ruffles feathers




Thu Jan 19, 10:03 AM ET

Pigeon fanciers are in a flap over massive culling of birds in efforts to contain avian flu in Turkey, where numerous rare and prized species have been treasured for centuries by local bird lovers.

Turkish authorities have killed nearly one million birds, including pigeons, across the country in an effort to halt the spread of the H5N1 bird flu, which has already killed four people.

To the horror of pigeon lovers, several cities even seem to be competing in their efforts to find ingenious ways to eradicate birds the most efficiently.

In Corum, in northern Turkey, officials tried, though unsuccessfully, to kill pigeons through radio waves and harsh electric lighting, while in Sinop, on the Black Sea, they are considering using firecrackers.

"It is unfair to accuse pigeons of transmitting avian flu," said an indignant Turker Savas, president of the Union of Turkish Pigeon Breeders.

"We know that pigeons can become infected with the disease, but they are not transmitters to man," he told AFP by telephone.

Savas, who also teaches at an agricultural university in northern Turkey, said killing pigeons in great numbers will be a blow to scientific research.

"It will be a huge loss of the genetic resources of some 800 world species, about 100 of which are indigenous to (southeastern) Anatolia," he noted.

From the caves of Cappadocia, to the rooftops of Istanbul to mosque courtyards all over Turkey, the country's wealth in pigeon species is celebrated on pigeon-lover websites.

The Turkish passion for the cooing birds, say aficionados, dates to pre-Islamic times when Shamanic cults believed pigeons guided the souls of the dead to heaven.

Modern pigeon lovers have been known to spend up to 20,000 Turkish pounds (12,400 euros, 15,000 dollars) for highly sought-after species such as those adept in aerial acrobatics.

"In Anatolia, we have been breeding pigeons for hundreds of years and the ancient laws are still respected," said Ibrahim Yavi, member of a pigeon association in Istanbul.

"They are part of us, but their value is not material, it is spiritual," he added.

Still, pigeon aficionados like Yavi say they will turn their birds over to authorities if public health is truly threatened, noting that the pigeons have been kept inside and all sales have been halted for the past three weeks.

Huseyin Sundura, an unemployed security agent who has a pigeon coop on his roof in the middle of Istanbul, shares Yavi's sentiments.

"It will be a huge loss for me if I have to kill my 70 pigeons," he says. "But what an even bigger blow if I were to lose her," he said, gesturing to his three-year-old niece Yasemin.

"It's human health that matters most in the end."

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