Noisy Chickens and Children in The Neighbourhood – Don’t Overreact!

red junglefowl
Earlier this week, the Chinese press reported that the authorities have put down a group of chickens which had been roaming free in the Thomson View and Sin Ming Avenue areas. 
Apparently, the Agri-Food & Veterinary Authority of Singapore (AVA) stepped in after receiving 20 complaints last year about the noise the birds were making.
“The chickens [were] humanely euthanised, as relocation options are not available in land-scarce Singapore,” an AVA spokesperson told the media, when asked about the matter.
The news of the cull, however, was not received very gladly by most people, judging by reactions online. Many expressed incredulity that anyone would find chickens noisy, and that the authorities had actually acted on such complaints and put down the chickens.
Indeed. While some residents in the area did not mind the chickens or their crowing, others were not so forgiving. 
According to a TODAY report, a Ms Ho Soucheng said, “I can hear them crowing early in the morning … and obviously I don’t like them.”
A 71-year-old resident, was quoted as having said: “Early in the morning, (they are) crowing, sometimes in the afternoon ... I think they should be removed, because they disturb the environment. Sometimes, in the evening, they keep on crowing, making a nuisance (of themselves).”
It is unfortunate that these residents find such natural behaviour of animals unacceptable. 
Be that as it may, there are several things worth noting in this episode.
One, the number of complainants was far lower than those who welcomed the chickens. 
Two, the complaints were about the noise the chickens were making, namely their crowing. (It is hard to imagine what other noise they could make, really, which would be so devastating to the neighbourhood.) The complaints were not about any public health issues or problems.
Three, the AVA spokesperson told the media that the authority “conducts surveillance and control operations to safeguard public health and mitigate nuisance issues”. He did not elaborate if these were concerns in this instance.
But even if they were, should the authorities have put down the chickens, based on a mere 20 complaints of noise?
It is in fact spurious to do so. For a start, chickens crow in the morning. That’s what they do. One would hardly consider this “noise”. Indeed, residents interviewed found this rather charming, a throw-back to our kampong days.
But if there is validity to the complaint, as the AVA seems to concur with, then surely there are many other things which should also be barred here as well.
For example, the yearly getais (community concerts) during the Chinese Ghost Month. These last 30 days, and takes place every night, with singing and auctions which carry on till 10pm, sometimes even past that.
There have been many complaints about these events but the authorities have let them be, although it has required them to end earlier at 10pm, instead of 10.30pm.
What is just as troubling about the AVA’s action in culling the chickens (which included chicks, apparently), is how it had acted so quickly, based on the complaints of noise.
As pointed out by Donald Low, an economist, on his Facebook page:
“The real question AVA should ask is whether the stray chickens pose real harms and risks to public health. If the real harms and risks are low, the right response by AVA is to educate residents that their fears are misplaced. This is much harder to do than to cull the chickens, but is absolutely essential. 
“In land scarce Singapore, it is terribly important that Singaporeans learn to live with the inconveniences that are sometimes caused by nature and the (shrinking population of) animals in their midst. Unless these are pests that pose a real harm to public health, mass culling is an extremely myopic response.”
There does not seem to be any issue with public health in this case.
Perhaps the AVA could have taken a leaf from the Community Mediation Centre (CMC), which was involved in an earlier incident between 2 neighbours. 
Briefly, a family newly-arrived from China, had taken offence with their Singaporean Indian neighbours whenever the latter cooked curry. The Chinese family complained that the aroma of the curry wafted into their home and they could not stand it.
With the help of the CMC, the two neighbours eventually agreed to a settlement: the Indian family would cook curry only when their Chinese neighbours were out; and the Chinese family agreed to try out the curry, and see if they could accept it.
The point here is that not every complaint should be met with the hard edge of the law, or for the authorities to wield the knife. As Mr Low pointed out, sometimes patient discussion and mediation, or public education, are the better ways.
Another recent example of how the authorities bungled in the face of complaints about noise is the incident of the Mattar Road football pitches.
After receiving complaints about the noise being made by the kids using the football pitches there, the Singapore Land Authority (SLA) ordered the operator to stop using two of the fields.
What got the goat of many, after the story emerged in the media, was that the complaints apparently came from only “four or five people” living in the area.
The ban, however, affected the 1,200 youths who used the pitches to train everyday; and the clubs which had paid high rentals to use the facilities. (Read more about the incident here: “Mattar Road Football Ban – Wrong Thing To Do”)
And who can forget the ban on the playing of musical instruments during Thaipusam, a Hindu festival here in Singapore and elsewhere. 
Several years ago, some residents along Serangoon Road had complained about the “noise” made during the procession, and the authorities promptly banned the playing of music. 
It took some protest from Singaporeans, and even a court challenge, before the government relaxed the rules last year. 
Singapore is short of land space and is becoming even more crowded as our population swells. There is thus a need for us to expand our threshold for understanding and patience. We also need to adopt a live-and-let-live attitude to life here, otherwise we would all become irritable, highly-strung individuals walking around like time-bombs.
And the authorities can help foster such attitudes by not themselves reacting, knee-jerk, to incidences such as those mentioned above, whether they involve “noisy” religious festivals, noisy children, or noisy chickens. 
Do not all these make life here in our little red dot more interesting? 

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