High Court of Zurich convicts pigeon breeder of disregarding animal dignity
On December 11, 2017, the High Court of Zurich convicted a pigeon breeder on multiple counts of deliberate animal cruelty. In March 2011, the latter had prepared a so-called "kamikaze pigeon" with the intention of poisoning a bird of prey. The High Court confirmed the accusation of multiple animal cruelty and also significantly increased the sentencing imposed by the court of first instance. The Stiftung für das Tier im Recht (TIR) welcomes the clear signal on the part of the courts that such practices will not be tolerated under any circumstances.
December 12, 2017
The experienced pigeon breeder was accused of having prepared a pigeon with poison in March 2016 with the sole purpose of killing a bird of prey. However, before the pigeon could fall prey to a predator, a cantonal policeman from the department for animal welfare and environmental protection became aware of the pigeon and managed to lock it temporarily in the outside enclosure of the pigeon loft.
An examination of the pigeon revealed that the neck area had been treated with Carbofuran – a highly toxic pesticide and nerve poison – and was also marked with spray paint. The bird died during the effort to remove the poison. The accused was taken into custody.
In March 2017, the District Court of Bulach (court of first instance) sentenced the accused to a conditional fine of 300 daily units of 30 Swiss francs each, which is equivalent to a prison sentence of ten months or a fine of 1500 Swiss francs, for multiple counts of deliberate animal cruelty, multiple offenses against the Federal Law on Hunting and Protection of wild mammals and Birds, and for violation of the legislation on chemical and environmental protection. Both the accused and the public prosecutor's office appealed against the ruling.
The defendant insisted that he was innocent and that the pigeon in question was not his animal but failed to convince the authorities. The prosecution produced sufficient evidence supporting the accusations made against the perpetrator. The court left no room for doubt that the defendant was guilty and found that his behavior was based solely on selfish motives, his actions being "highly disrespectful, self-glorifying and presumptuous", given the fact that he was aiming to kill a bird of prey, which is a protected bird species in Switzerland, only so he could practice his hobby. The court even went as far as to state that the defendant had knowingly risked the "extermination of a species", of which only a few specimens are still left in the canton of Zurich.
The defendant was convicted of attempted deliberate, torturous killing of a bird of prey within the meaning of article 26 paragraph 1 litera b of the Animal Welfare Act (AWA) as well as of deliberate and unnecessary overexertion of the pigeon by exposing it to massive stress when locking it out of the pigeon loft. In this context, the prosecutor even spoke of "abandonment" of the pigeon (abandoning an animal constitutes an act of animal cruelty according to article 26 paragraph 1 litera e of the AWA). What is truly remarkable and exemplary about the court's decision is the fact that the pigeon breeder was also convicted of deliberately disregarding the dignity of the pigeon, which is also a form of animal cruelty according to article 26 paragraph 1 litera a of the AWA. The court ruled that the use of the pigeon as bait for birds of prey is degrading because the pigeon is treated like an insentient and lifeless object, its intrinsic value thus being completely disregarded. No prevailing interests were evident in this case that could somehow justify the violation of the bird's dignity.
This is not an isolated case. The ornithological associations, TIR, and the Zurich cantonal police have numerous reports of similar incidents throughout Switzerland. It is suspected that the method used in the current case is quite common among pigeon breeders. This is the second time such a judgement has been handed down; in July 2016, a pigeon owner was convicted of the same offense.