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LETTER | Pigeon is derived from Latin pipio - young bird. The word passed into old French as pijon and in English, pigeon.

It is one of the most intelligent of the bird species and has passed the ‘mirror test’ (recognises its reflection in a mirror) and is the only non-mammal that has this ability. It can recognise all 26 letters of the English language as well as able to conceptualise.

According to the Pigeon Control Resource Centre, to ancient people, a white pigeon would have seemed miraculous and this explains why it was widely worshipped and considered sacred.

From Genesis 7:11 to 8:14, we know that the flood lasted a total of one year and 10 days. The raven and the dove were released over a period of 21 days after the mountaintops became visible. The raven served as a first attempt to discover dry land, and the dove became Noah’s way of determining when to leave the ark.

In Islam, it is mentioned that there were 80 men and their families on the Ark with Prophet Noah and he sent a crow to see if it may return with any signs that land was once again habitable. It was late, so he sent a pigeon, which came back with an olive branch in its beak and muddy feet, indicating that water had receded.

Older Sikhs feed pigeons to honour the high priest Guru Gobind Singh and for some they believe that when they are reincarnated, they will never go hungry if they have fed pigeons.

Reuters started its European business using trained homing pigeons in 1850 with 45 pigeons carrying the latest news and stock prices from Aachen in Germany to Brussels. The telegraph service had numerous gaps and was slow but pigeons travelled the 122km in two hours, beating the railway by four hours.

In World War I mobile pigeon lofts were set up behind the trenches. It had to fly through enemy fire and poison gas to get their messages home with roles in intelligence gathering.

One of the richest and most famous families amassed its wealth by exploiting pigeons. In the early 1800s, the Rothschild family set up a network of pigeon lofts throughout Europe and used homing pigeons to carry information between its financial houses. It is quicker and more efficient than any other means of communication available and beat the competition.

The late Queen Elizabeth has lofts and pigeon keepers at her estate in Sandringham and Mike Tyson is also an enthusiastic pigeon keeper.

A study by Oxford University concluded that pigeons use roads and motorways to navigate to return to their roost even when released hundreds of miles from their loft.

Project Sea Hunt trained a number of pigeons to identify floating red or yellow life jackets. They can also see ultraviolet and many times quicker when it came to spotting survivors from a capsized or sinking boat.

Their young remain in the nest for up to two months before fledging. It gives the young pigeon a distinct advantage over other bird species as it leaves the nest as a mature juvenile and copes better in the first few days of its life.

Perception of the pigeon has changed from God to devil and from hero to zero!

Country pigeons or training birds eat grain, are fat and healthy and would fetch a high price at fancy restaurants.

However, city pigeons, eat whatever they can, and sometimes carry diseases. They are opportunistic and will eat all foods that are unsavoury to humans carrying parasites and other diseases. Pigeon breeders also suffer from an ailment called ‘bird fancier's lung’.

Overfed flocks of pigeons multiply at an unnatural rate. Large flocks unable to sustain their population suffer from disease and starvation. Large numbers of pigeons also pose serious health risks to the general public.

Given the above, I wonder why pigeons from various countries were not harnessed to trace the ill-fated flight MH370.

Hopefully, the special pigeon whose loft has a lot of storage space somewhere in Cheras will enjoy the parks and therapeutic landscape. With the best possible rehabilitation management plan, able to change from zero to hero again and not pose serious health risks to the general public.

I leave you with some proverbs:

A sparrow in the hand is better than the pigeon on the roof.

He that would keep his house clean must not let priest or pigeon into it.

“Jinak-jinak merpati, sudah dekat terbanglah dia.”

What say you?

The views expressed here are those of the author/contributor and do not necessarily represent the views of Malaysiakini.

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