Crows: A problem of epic proportions

11 April 2019

As published by The New Straits Times on 25 March 2019

Professor Sadequr Rahman

Survivors of crow swoops in the Indian subcontinent all tell of similar encounters with the bird. There is a distant caw, a flutter of wings, a black blur and suddenly, the fried fritter in your hand is gone. This may not be the norm in Malaysia, but the common house crow could become aggressive if left unchecked.

Monash University's School of Science Professor Sadequr Rahman said crows are "very intelligent" and the breed in Kuala Lumpur is genetically similar to the ones in Sri Lanka.

A study by a student of the university shows that some crows had "hitchhiked to Malaysia by ship". "Their behavioural patterns and genetics are similar. As they are bright birds, they adapt to their environment, not unlike humans. "They flock to where there is food, and yes, if they think they can get away with snatching food, they will do it.

"It's like a person crossing the road when the light is red," said Sadequr, a professor of plant genetics and the director of the university's Tropical Medicine & Biology research platform.

He said the birds "aggregate in numbers when they are threatened", evoking an image similar to Alfred Hitchcock's movie, The Birds. "If you attack one, they will come around and attack you. I have not seen this here, but I saw it when I was a child in Bangladesh. "They travel in pairs and are quite social, so that they can call out for help when they are hurt," he said, adding that crows from Singapore and Penang are genetically diverse.

On whether unhygienic practices contributed to their presence, he said "yes", adding that crows "love being near people as they are a source of food supplies through discarded food". "Crows will eat anything, so the likelihood of diseases spreading is there."

Zoologist Dr Hafidzi Mohd Noor said while culling is essential to keep their population in check, it is not the solution to the problem. The associate professor at Universiti Putra Malaysia said Malaysians cannot escape the winged vermin as long as their cities are dirty and garbage left lying around. "If we fail to get our act together, we will have to deal with them and they will multiply and become a nuisance, as well as start being aggressive. "They will spread diseases. In the United States, they were known to have spread the West Nile virus, similar to what caused the Japanese Encephalitis outbreak in Malaysia," he said, adding that they are usually found in cities due to the abundance of food sources.

He said crows from Sri Lanka were introduced by coffee planter John Edward Valentine Carey on Pulau Carey in 1902 to get rid of crop-eating insects, but the birds became more populous instead.

In the Klang municipality, there was an average of 7,000 birds shot from 2010 to 2014.