Beware of crowding pigeons and stray dogs in urban Yangon

Myanmar people are kind by nature and we have heartfelt pity on other living things. If someone were to say this sympathetic nature is engendering the dangers caused by pigeons and dogs on the streets of Yangon, animal lovers will be quick to provide a stream of comments. But this is a serious and very real problem.
Just recently a post surfaced on Facebook telling how a six year old passed away in Mayangone Township. Doctors say it was the culprit of the meningococcus bacteria but this just left the parents puzzled. The child reportedly took a late bath and developed a high fever. He passed away almost immediately after being admitted to the hospital.

Doctor’s remark

When the parents questioned the doctor concerning their child’s sudden death, they were asked whether there were any birds kept at their homes and living in close proximity to people. The parents replied there weren’t any. The doctor remarked that the child had contracted bacteria that targeted deep into the internal organs.

The bewildered parents thought long and hard and then remembered that a flock of pigeons that nested under the roofing of their balcony on their fourth floor home. This is why their child complained of constant headaches and stomachaches. They always thought it was a kid’s way of feigntheir way out of school but unfortunately they have now realized the true cause of it too late.
As I’ve said in the beginning, we Myanmar people by nature are pity at animals and we will feed other animals either because of our sympathy or because of traditionally held beliefs.

We can see a lot of dog lovers feeding strays on the streets of present day Yangon. From a Buddhist perspective, this is a very humble and morally virtuous act of kindness for the simple act of feeding a being termed weaker than ourselves.

Danger cannot creep up on the wary

However, we are living in a world with numerous dangers. We human beings must be cautious amidst the reflecting negative consequences and deterioration present in the modern world.

Pigeons lay eggs up to two to three times a year and may produce from two to three eggs per brood. U Tun Win from Kyimyindine Tsp gave a visible example of how pigeons can affect our lives. He said their droppings can contain acid and if we leave them on the roof or hood of our cars for a week or two we will later find the paint diminished upon cleaning.

Their droppings also accumulate on roof of houses and buildings and in the nooks and crannies they take shelter in. A worker from the communications department said pigeons are a serious threat to phone lines as well. “In the areas where people regularly feed them, pigeons will wait by the hundreds for their daily meals. When they rest on the telephone lines their gathered weight can loosen the fastenings in place or even snap the cables,” they said.

A community doctor also pointed their detrimental behavior towards our health. He said when flocks of pigeons fly up at once from their feeding grounds it kicks up dust and feathers into the air.

Unnoticeable at first, prolonged breathing in of pigeon droppings can lead to a buildup of the fungus Cryptococcus neoformans that can lead to meningitis.

Curbing the dog population

Another urban threat to public health is the stray dogs roaming around the city. While majority of dogs are benign, the infections they carry pose a serious threat to our health, with rabies topping the charts of annual casualties caused in Asia.

The municipal committee used to leave poisoned meals for stray dogs late at night to reduce their numbers, about once a year. But now in favor of humane treatment of animals, the practice has ceased completely and officials are now spaying or injecting reproductive impediments into the stray dogs instead.

Dog lovers strike again as we hear stories of how they hide away the stray dogs when municipal workers come place poison food while some personally take the issue to the workers.

Accountability still zilch

This is from personal experience too as I have worked in the ward administration section and accompanied municipal workers on this task. We were subject to blaming and profanity from so-called dog lovers on multiple occasions. But when those dogs sink their teeth on an unsuspecting passerby then you will be hard-pressed to find a trace of any owner or anyone claiming a shred of responsibility.

I imagine it was three or four months ago when news circulated on the unfortunate death of a child in the rural areas who was pounced upon by a pack of dogs. In another incident in Ohn-ne Village in Bago Region, ten people sought medical treatment on the same day because they suspected the stray dog that bit them had rabies. And in Kadar Ward, Paung Tsp in Mon State, 15 people were sent to the hospital due to attacks from rabid dogs.
Stray dogs alarmingly on the rise

With authorities performing less population control and people protecting stray dogs from them, the canines have bred at an alarming rate and can be found on almost every street of every ward. This has deterred people from venturing into areas said to contain aggressive dogs and has instilled a sense of vulnerability in the general public.

In my own ward there are over 100 stray dogs. Let me calculate on their demographic in the nearest ward and township. Kyimyindine Township has 22 wards, Sanchaung Tsp has 18 wards and Ahlone Tsp has 11 wards. Combined, they have 51 wards and if there are 100 stray dogs per ward on average then that will put their numbers at over 5,000 for all three townships together. We, in this simple calculation, just imagine how much the number of stray dogs has risen in all 33 townships.

Given these circumstances, it is no surprise that people have been calling for an organized plan to address this major issue. There should be more cooperation between the municipal committee, animal lovers and other philanthropic organizations. As a Buddhist, I wish to urge everyone to practice the precept on refraining from killing (Panatipata) and increase efforts to spay stray dogs or make them impotent.

Furthermore, summer is approaching and the bombax flowers (Letpan flowers) will soon blossom to realize the old adage, ‘rabid dogs breed when the letpan flowers bloom’, warning us all to be cautious and mindful of our surroundings.


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