Last Saturday afternoon 21 deceased pigeons were discovered clustered together at the western end of the Fort Christian parking lot. Another one was found the next day.
The Department of Planning and Natural Resources responded to the scene and is currently investigating the case. If DPNR finds that the pigeons were purposely poisoned, the perpetrator could serve up to two years of jail time and be fined between $2,000 and $5,000 under the territory’s animal abuse laws.
Jamal Nielsen, DPNR’s media relations coordinator, said that because the investigation is still ongoing, the department doesn’t want to speculate about if there was foul play involved or not.
After parking his car to attend last Saturday’s Art on the Town event, a concerned citizen saw the lifeless pigeons, noticing none of them had any signs of physical trauma. He notified the V.I. Police Department and soon after officers responded to the scene.
Nielsen said administrator Merwin Potter, DPNR officer Omari Lewis, acting St. Thomas-St. John Police Chief Jason Marsh and other police officers collected the birds and placed them in biohazard bags for disposal.
“A biohazard bag was used as a precautionary measure, as the cause of death was unknown,” Nielsen explained, adding that they were then transported to the biohazard disposal unit at Schneider Regional Medical Center where they were thrown away.
The next day Lewis and Ruth Gomez, the director of Fish and Wildlife, returned to the scene to check if there were more deceased birds. There was one more deceased bird at the scene that had not been there the day before.
DPNR employees took the pigeon to the V.I. Department of Agriculture on St. Thomas, so it could be sent off for toxicology testing to see if the bird had been poisoned. But the bird wasn’t sent off to the lab on the mainland and has since been disposed of.
Dr. Bethany Bradford, Agriculture’s director of veterinary services that’s located on St. Croix, said she does not have veterinary staff on St. Thomas, so there wasn’t someone available to send the pigeon to the toxicology lab. She also said her department generally handles poultry and livestock cases and that wildlife ones like this aren’t usually its responsibility.
In the future, Bradford hopes there can be more collaboration between her department and others when suspected poisonings occur. She said that other departments can use Agriculture’s account and lab on the mainland for testing, since Agriculture already has an established connection with a reliable lab.
But because of her department’s limited staff and its lack of vets on St. Thomas, Bradford said it would be easier for departments like DPNR to send out their own cases to that mainland lab, especially if an incident happens on St. Thomas or St. John. It wouldn’t make sense to ship them to St. Croix just to mail them off to the mainland, she said.
Bradford said pigeons cannot get avian flu, so it’s more likely but not certain that poisoning was involved in their deaths.
It’s unclear how DPNR will pursue the investigation and prove the birds were indeed poisoned, since all of them have now been disposed of and none were tested for poisoning.
According to V.I. Code, in addition to poisoning, illegal animal abuse in the first degree includes any person who maliciously or unnecessarily kills, tortures or wounds any animal, or causes or permits cropping of any animal’s ears or docking of its tail by anyone other than a veterinarian. Using any animal as bait for malicious intent, dog fighting and cockfighting are also punishable by law.