Mutare’s disabled pigeons

Pigeon with amputated foot at Meikles Park, Mutare

by NORMA TSOPO

FOOT deformities are bafflingly prevalent in Mutare’s city centre feral pigeons – many have missing toes with others walking on stumps.

The eastern border’s city pigeons routinely get their feet or toes wound up in string, thread and human hair on the ground and as those materials wind tightly, they cut off circulation, and the toes and feet fall off.

Pigeon with toes wound by strings

This is classified, internationally, as ‘string-foot’.

Although the phenomenon is commonplace across the world’s major urban centres for the ground feeders it’s something that Zimbabweans have been too busy to notice.

Observations by this publication revealed that synthetic string that is used by vendors to tie vegetables was inflicting the most damage as the birds scavenge for feed around vending stalls.

Vendors who were interviewed on the effect of their poor refuse management expressed ignorance on what effect their conduct was having on the city’s pigeons.

“I really didn’t know that these small pieces of thread could have such a devastating effect on the birds. I will try to be more careful next time,” Letwin Mugebe a vegetable vendor said.

Besides getting snared during moving around on the ground feeding they are also made vulnerable by the material they use to construct their nests – string, wire and synthetic weaves.

Pigeon with amputated toes

Once entangled pigeons would need to be captured and disentangled to save their limbs which are also crucial in grooming their feathers and managing parasites.

Without anyone particularly looking at their welfare except occasional feedings at Meikles Park the untamed pigeons have been suffering from the dire consequences of environmental pollution.

Environmentalist Moses Chimedza said the fate of the pigeons was a silent epidemic that the city needed to wake up to as such injuries could lead to infection, and obviously, pain and distress to the birds.

He said there should be efforts to capture affected birds then remove the offending thread using tweezers and nail scissors.

“This should just be a wake-up call for the city to manage its waste in a way that does not negatively affect other life forms.

People should not discard all forms of threads and synthetic sack threads indiscreetly,” Chimedza said.

Margaret Mukwendengwe who used to keep pigeons said the birds were so sensitive that even the simplest cotton thread could lead to the amputation of their toes or feet.

“Pigeons need to be closely monitored especially if they constantly get into contact with thread because they are unable to disentangle themselves and would need human assistance in doing so,” Mukwendengwe said.

Government’s veterinary department however expressed ignorance at anything amiss with the pigeons.

Society for the Prevention of Cruelty against Animals (SPCA) Mutare chairperson Jane Clegg expressed worry over the phenomenon.

“We are very concerned and we are still trying to on a practical solution to the problem because while we can’t do anything about those that are already maimed we need to capture and disentangle those that are currently wound before they lose their limbs,” Clegg said.

Her colleague at the animal welfare organisation Lynne James said their starting point was going to be educational campaigns.

“We need people to be aware that at times it’s the seemingly small things that make all the difference for good or bad like failing to properly dispose a string,” James said.

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