Hungry pigeons face death in Venice

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The Independent Online
Rome - After combating the evils of flood water, poison algae, air pollution and tourist litter, Venice has declared war on a new enemy: its pigeons, writes l. The birds may look pretty in front of St Mark's basilica, but city officials complain t hey are damaging historic buildings and spreading disease.

According to a new health report, more than a quarter of the city's pigeon droppings contain campylobacter jejuni, a bacterium which causes gastro- enteritis. Droppings are alsoforcing many palaces to hide their splendour behind netting.

The head of Venice's architectural heritage department, Livio Ricciardi, proposes starving the pigeons out of the city. "We can't keep covering buildings in netting," he says. "The only way is to ban sale or distribution of birdseed, at least around St Mark's Square."

This has split Venice. It will no doubt comfort one parish priest in Mestre, the industrial town across the water, who recently suggested gunning the pigeons down with hunting rifles. And it has gladdened the secretary of the Venice in Peril fund, John Millerchip. "They are always down on the ground rooting around in dense clusters. You have to walk around them, which can be a real pain," Mr Millerchip said. "To protect buildings we have had to put up spikes and low- voltage electrical strips, which is quite an expense.''

Environmentalists are furious. "We too are in favour of reducing the pigeon population, but not by starvation," said Cristina Romieri of the local Vegetarian Association. "If a birdseed ban comes in, we are prepared to risk being fined and feed the pigeons anyway.''

Milan city council pursued the starvation option and, according to Ms Romieri, it has not worked. "They haven't left, they just lie in a corner and die," she said. "In Venice there are so few tourists at the moment that the pigeons are already fighting with the cats for food, and sometimes winning."

Venice city council has yet to pronounce on the pigeons' fate, but some councillors advocate doctoring the birdseed with contraceptive hormones.

Nothing so drastic has been contemplated in London by Westminster City Council to control Trafalgar Square's pigeon population. It simply publishes a leaflet giving "five good reasons" - mostly to do with disease - not to feed the birds.The city's Barbican Centre, however, employs a hawk.