Cuenca’s pigeon problem: they cause disease and damage houses

May 20, 2015 | 4 comments

There are too many pigeons in Cuenca and their overpopulation is creating public health problems, city officials say. Property owners are also reporting more cases of structural damage resulting from pigeon droppings in attics and eves.

Children are at greater risk of contracting diseases from pigeons, health officials say. Photo credit: travelblog.org.

Children are at greater risk of contracting diseases from pigeons, health officials say. Photo credit: travelblog.org.

Officials from the Ministry of Environment, Ministry of Health, and city of Cuenca met Monday to discuss ways to control what they say is a growing number of pigeons. The group will meet again in two weeks to review proposals about how to deal with the problem.

According to the health ministry, several recent cases of salmonella, mostly in children, can be linked to contact with pigeons.

According to Fabian Toral, biologist and ornithologist, the growing numbers will result in more cases of disease transmitted to humans. “When there are too many birds, they will spread disease more quickly among themselves and then pose a danger to the public,” he says. He said the most common diseases that can be passed to humans, called zoonotic diseases, transmitted through contact with droppings, are salmonellosis and coccidiosis.

Toral said that pigeons can also spread epidemics, such as those seen in Southeast Asia, that spread around the world. “These are rare but in some cases, bird-to-human transmission can be deadly,” he said.

The city says it plans to launch a public information campaign to reduce the practice of feeding pigeons, mostly in public parks and plazas. Santo Domingo Plaza, Parques San Blas and San Sebastian are common flocking areas where the birds are fed by home owners and passersby.

The city says that pigeons are also causing damage to roof and eve areas of the city’s historic houses. “As their dropping pile up near roosting areas, there is wood rot that can cost thousands of dollars to repair,” said a city health official says. “Although some home owners use mesh to keep them out, most don’t.”

City markets have taken special precautions to keep pigeons out of areas where food is handled and sold.

In the past, there have been several cases of mass pigeon poisonings in Parque San Sebastian and San Blas that caused public outrage. Authorities believe they were the work of property owners angered over damage caused by the birds.

 

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