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Last Updated: Thursday, 1 February 2007, 09:59 GMT
Jakarta bird ban ends 'way of life'
By Lucy Williamson
BBC News, Jakarta

Jakarta street
Jakarta's streets have been cleared of birds
Jakarta's first poultry patrol was anything but a surprise to the residents of Kemayoran district.

The red and white banner strung across the narrow street read "You are entering a chicken-free zone".

Under it, sheltering from the rain in coffee shops and doorways, dozens of police and officials waited for the governor's arrival.

"He'll go down that road", one shop owner said, "and he'll be stopping off at the house to your right."

The city's Governor Sutiyoso came to stamp his authority on a ban that some have quietly labelled drastic.

In this city of more than 10 million people, keeping a few chickens in the back yard is a way of life.

It's useful to have your own chickens, because food prices are always going up, especially around the holidays
Pak Sunaryo

But from 1 February, all chickens, ducks and domestic birds are banned, unless their owners obtain a special licence.

The move comes after a spate of human deaths from bird flu since the beginning of the year.

A spike in infection rates is not unusual during the rainy season, when the virus survives more easily.

But last year saw more human deaths from the virus in Indonesia than in any other country, and officials are keen to end international criticism that Indonesia has been soft on bird flu.

Safety net

The new rules have worried many families. Domesticating birds has a long history in Java, but officials say thousands of chickens have been culled since the ban was announced.

Pak Sunaryo got rid of his chickens as soon as the new rules were announced. He lives in a tiny alley just minutes from the city's main shopping areas.

Governor Sutiyoso
The ban, explained by the governor, will affect people's lives

"I used to keep them for festivals," he said. "It's useful to have your own chickens, because food prices are always going up, especially around the holidays."

A short distance away, Ibu Eni was also getting used to life with an empty backyard.

"All my chickens were gifts from my relatives in West Java," she said. "I used to let them just run around, but when I heard about the bird flu cases, I killed them all. For the past month I've eaten chicken every day."

Domestic chickens and ducks play an important economic role for families across Indonesia. They provide a kind of nutritional safety net for when things get tough, or a way to earn a little extra money.

Each chicken fetches a market price of just over $1. And according to Dr PM Laksono, a sociologist at Indonesia's Gajah Mada University, for the poorest families, the money from selling poultry or eggs pays for basic costs like school fees.

Cultural role

But birds have a place in the culture of Indonesia too. The national symbol is a bird called a garuda, a mythical bird which appears on the country's coat of arms and gives its name to the state airline.

On the island of Java, turtledoves are traditionally seen as giving completeness to human life, and are often seen or heard through the windows of family houses.

According to Dr Laksono, doves in particular have a symbolic significance which follows people through their lives.

Grandparents will often give doves to their grandchildren on their birthdays. The birds' image appears on wedding invitations. And 1,000 days after the death of a family member, a pair of doves can be released to signal the flight of his or her spirit from the world.

But to health workers in the city, doves, pigeons and all other birds have come to symbolise something else.

Of the six human deaths from bird flu this year, two were in Jakarta. Most of Indonesia's 63 cases have been the result of contact with infected poultry.

One of the areas visited by the Jakarta governor was famous for its racing pigeons.

Now, the city's mayor announced proudly, they are nowhere to be seen.


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