Mayor Enrique Peñalosa is attempting to rid Plaza Bolivar of its numerous pigeons by enforcing a ban on selling corn kernels within Bogotá’s historic square. Hundreds of pigeons flock daily at the iconic square and their overpopulation is now considered a menace.
According to the Bogotá City Council, the birds now number at 33 pigeons per square metre where 5 is the expected figure. On a weekend, given the high foot traffic of passersby and tourists, up to 3500 can be found at the site whereas 1300 turn up between Monday to Friday.
Upon a five-month consultation with vets, sociologists and biologists, the Bogotá City Council concluded that 40% of the pigeons were infected with parasites and viruses, and some were carriers of smallpox.
Samuel Aloyo is unconvinced that the argument of disease is a good enough reason to enforce the ban. “In all the time that I’ve worked here I’ve never seen one person get sick,” he said, “I don’t really know why they’ve decided this.”
Originally from Barranquilla, he has sold corn kernels to feed the pigeons at the square for over 30 years. His services include taking pictures of tourists–sometimes with pigeons–and selling corn kernels at 1000 pesos for a sachet. He will now move onto a kiosk in which to sell his pictures.
Rosa Maria, who has sold kernels of corn in Plaza Bolivar for 20 years, believes the real reason for reducing the number of pigeons is because they are defacing the monuments around the public square. “The pigeons damaged many of the lampposts and statues here. That’s why they want to get rid of them.”
According to Rosa Maria the tradition of feeding originally began as a form of good luck and that feeding the birds would lead to greater fortunes within one’s life and work. Now that the Mayor intends to ban her trade, she intends to move elsewhere to start a business serving French fries and sausages.
Many at Plaza Bolivar agreed with the ban on health grounds but few found the sight of thousands of pigeons as bothersome. On the contrary, many families and passersby seemed unaffected and, in some cases, thrilled to be among the pigeons. Though initially timid, the birds are tempted to perch when fed corn kernels.
The ban on selling corn within the historic square won’t occur immediately–that would be to throw the cat amongst the pigeons– but will instead be implemented from November onwards; by which time the Council hopes to have found other forms of work for those affected by the ban.
In addition to banning the selling of corn at the Plaza, the Council will seek to educate the public not to feed the birds and will also undertake veterinary solutions to bring the population of the pigeons down.
Mayor Peñalosa will stand to benefit from the reduced pigeon population as his seat is also located at Plaza Bolivar within the Palacio Liévano. With another year left in his tenure, the pressure to achieve lasting positive outcomes beyond the reduction of pigeons will be on him; particularly in relation to the city’s environmental record and the promise to construct a metro to ease the burden of Bogotá’s traffic.
Photos by Arjun Harindranath