|To some, they are another species of feathered friend; to others, they are rats with wings whose droppings deface historic buildings.
But in Japan, pigeons may have become the victims of crime, after police arrested a Tokyo taxi driver on suspicion of deliberately driving into a flock of the birds, killing one of them.
Suspect Atsushi Ozawa, 50, “used his car to kill a common pigeon, which is not a game animal”, in the Japanese capital last month, and was arrested on Sunday for violating wildlife protection laws, a Tokyo police spokesperson told Agence France-Presse.
The suspect told police he had driven into the birds because “Roads are for people. It’s up to the pigeons to avoid cars,” according to local media.
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While limited numbers of game pigeons can be hunted legally in Japan, their feral, urban cousins, can be killed only if they are a proven nuisance – such as causing damage to crops and livestock – and only with the approval of local authorities.
The taxi driver allegedly sped off from traffic lights after they had turned green and ploughed into the birds at a speed of 60km/h (37mph), according to Japanese media.
The alleged incident was reported to police by a passerby who was alerted by the sound of a car engine as it accelerated.
A veterinarian performed a postmortem examination on the pigeon and determined its cause of death as traumatic shock.
Given his job as a professional driver, police described his actions as “highly malicious” – a consideration that prompted them to proceed with the unusual arrest, the Fuji TV network reported.
Sympathy for Tokyo’s pigeons contrasts with sentiment towards its population of crows, which were targeted after complaints that their appetite for rubbish left in the street by restaurants was making a mess of the capital’s streets.
In 2001, the then governor, Shintaro Ishihara, announced he was waging war on the city’s estimated 36,000 crows. Over the two decades that followed, the capital’s crow population fell by around two-thirds, according to the Yomiuri Shimbun.