Often seen as disease-carrying nuisances, pigeons have an image problem around the world.
Japan is no exception, but birds enjoy some legal immunity, forcing city dwellers to put up with these unwanted guests perching and cooing on their balconies.
Under Japan’s wildlife laws, residents cannot kill or remove even the most nuisance birds without approval from local authorities, a protection that feral pigeons do not have nationally in the United States, although some states, including Massachusetts, have rules against killing them. . If people discover that a pigeon has laid an egg or made a nest on their balcony, they also cannot remove the bird, nest or egg without approval.
And drivers are supposed to drive slowly while pigeons cross the road, even against the light.
Now the humble pigeon finds itself at the center of a case after a Tokyo taxi driver was accused of deliberately running over one with his taxi.
The 50-year-old driver was arrested on December 3 and charged with violating the wildlife protection law, but has not been formally charged. Police said he had sped after a traffic light turned green, deliberately crashing his taxi into a flock of pigeons at a speed of about 35 miles per hour, killing one, according to The Mainichi, a local newspaper.
An autopsy was ordered. The veterinarian who performed it determined that the pigeon had died from traumatic shock.
The taxi driver could not be reached for comment. Police said Kyodo News who told them: “The roads belong to humans, so the pigeons should have moved out of the way.”
Under wildlife law, feral pigeons are not distinguished from other wild birds and can only be killed if they are proven to be a problem, such as by transmitting disease or damaging crops or livestock.
Even then, local authorities must give permission to kill them.
The penalty for killing a pigeon without permission is up to one year in prison or a fine of one million Japanese yen, about $7,000. In both 2021 and 2022, about 4,000 pigeons were killed with that permit. In both years, about 200 eggs were extracted.
Because of the law, apartment complexes have had to find other ways to deal with the nuisance.
Some resorts choose to scare away birds hire falconerswho work with permits, to bring in hawks at a cost of thousands of dollars per visit to scare away the pigeons.
Falconers who have a hunting license can also catch and kill pigeons.
They are kept busy, given the large number of pigeons that nest on the balconies and keep people awake at night. “Some people really hate it,” said Keisuke Ikoma, who runs a falconry company called Green Field.
His company, based in Osaka and operating throughout Japan, sends falconers to between 3,000 and 4,000 locations a year. In addition to apartment complexes, customers include factory owners, who fear that pigeon droppings will damage their products.
Legal experts said the taxi driver’s arrest appeared to have less to do with the pigeon’s fate and more to do with the social harm caused by the deliberate decision to kill a living being.
“The driver hit a pigeon at high speed,” said Kazuaki Ishii, a lawyer in Kyoto who specializes in pet and animal rights. “which violates the social order that the wildlife protection and management law seeks to protect.” Atsushi Hosokawa, an animal rights lawyer, said police seemed to view someone who would run over any animal at 35 mph as a danger to society at large. Whether the police’s actions were proportionate to the seriousness of the accusation is in dispute, he added.
Japan’s wildlife law was originally designed to prevent overhunting of wild animals. In recent years, certain pest species, including deer and wild boar, have been designated for culling. In 1981, authorities considered adding feral pigeons, but did not do so because they were concerned that they would not be distinguishable from pigeons bred for racing.
The taxi driver has gained some sympathy on social networks.
“I just don’t understand why the police tried so hard,” one user said. wrote of the arrest on X, formerly Twitter. “It’s so mysterious.”