08 July, 2006

44. A very Italian compromise

Venice has an ambivalent relationship with its more than a hundred thousand pigeons.

On the one hand, because of all the pigeon poop on the historic buildings and the unpleasant smell in the residential back alleys where they roost and breed, the city has full-time pigeon-catchers on the payroll who systematically bait, net, and exterminate these 'flying rats', as a Mayor of Venice once described them. This program is carried out as discreetly as possible, in the side streets, in the quiet time just after dawn, to avoid harrassment from greenies and animal rights activists.

On the other hand, tourists everywhere never seem to tire of feeding pigeons in public places, so Venice licenses street vendors to sell corn in packets just to feed the same 'flying rats'. As a result, there is so much food available to pigeons that they can breed not just once a year like most other pigeons in the world, but all year, up to seven or eight times, two eggs at a time.

Wouldn't it be sensible to ban pigeon-feeding and stop selling corn to tourists? Then maybe the 'rat'-catchers could get the pigeon population down to a manageable level. Well, that would be the logical, practical, sensible thing to do, but that's not what the city of Venice decided to do.

Why not? One, this is Venice, and Venice is in Italy, so the fact that NOT banning pigeon-feeding is illogical, contradictory, irresponsible, hypocritical, corruptible, and completely absurd doesn't automatically mean that banning will happen. Two, corn vending is so insanely profitable at several euros a time for a couple of handfuls of corn kernels in a paper bag that the vendors can afford to pay more than a hundred thousand euros a year to the city for each vending license and still make a handsome profit. The city won't kill this cash cow because it pays for the whole pigeon control program and then some.

So, what's the city of Venice's solomonesque solution to the pigeon problem? They made it illegal to feed pigeons OUTSIDE the Piazza San Marco. Inside San Marco – pigeon heaven, no limit on how much corn you can give the vermin to eat. Ten metres away from Piazza San Marco – on the spot fines for you, and exterminators waiting to catch the little birds.


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