Last week, I discussed the air pollution that arises from the burning of offerings during the Hungry Ghost Festival here.
This week, I will talk about the hygiene issues that come with putting out food offerings on the streets. As part of traditional customs, people put out food items like fruits, biscuits and tea leaves as an offering to wandering spirits during the Hungry Ghost Festival. However, the common practice is to leave the offerings out overnight or until the cleaner removes them as it is taboo to tamper with or consume the offerings. The unattended food becomes a feast for wild animals like monkeys, birds, and rats, producing a slew of problems.
Pigeons help themselves to the food offerings on the ground.
Already, pigeon related issues are a major concern in residential estates. These birds are not fussy about their food and have acclimated to our urban environment such that they now thrive in large numbers.
Leaving food out in the open is akin to feeding the birds, which disrupts the ecological balance in the wild, allowing the pigeons to breed beyond what our natural environment can support (Loo and Kwok, 2018). In other words, there are more pigeons than the fruits on our trees can feed, due to these man-made food sources.
Furthermore, the availability of food causes the pigeons to congregate near human activity (Baker, 2018), encroaching into our living space. Once these birds establish that residential areas are a food source, they may start settling in as our neighbours. This is what happened at my parents’ flat where the roosting of pigeons under the air conditioner ledge is a problem. The pigeons leave the ledge full of feathers and droppings, creating a foul smell.
These wild birds and their droppings carry germs that may causes diseases, posing a great health risk and make our living conditions less desirable. The same can be said for rats, which also feed on these food left behind by pigeons.
Thus, the act of leaving food offerings out in the open has a detrimental impact on our living environment, health and ecological system. Next week, we will take a look at some possible measures to counter the environmental problems of the Hungry Ghost Festival.
EDIT: An earlier version of this post mentioned that pigeons play a role in pollinating trees and plants. This is not true as rock pigeons found in Singapore are granivores that feed on seeds.
Loo, A. and Kwok, J. (Aug 8, 2018). Feeding of wildlife causes host of problems
Baker, J.A. (Mar 31, 2018). AVA urges people not to feed pigeons amid a sharp rise in feedback about the birds