A bird in one of the smoking areas on the American University in Dubai campus on February 10, 2020. Mais Othman.

Mystery on Campus: What Killed the Birds?

On a quiet morning after the New Year, Jizelle Saliba was walking outside the dorms building at the American University in Dubai, listening to some loud music on her earphones. Suddenly, something unusual caught her eye: a small bird was laying still on the green grass, with its beak wide open. It then flipped over, shook its legs frantically, and just dropped dead. A bit later, she found another two birds dying in the same way, a few meters away from the first one.   

Video courtesy of Jizelle Saliba.

  The 21-year-old Lebanese-Ukrainian student is not the only one to have witnessed birds recently dying on campus. Linda Abubaker, an AUD student from Syria, said that she saw one dead bird near the admissions building about two weeks ago. She also saw more dead birds near one of the campus’ smoking areas. “I saw two dead crows; one at night, and one during the day. They were dead next to building A, near smoking area A.

Jizelle Saliba sitting in a smoking area in the American University in Dubai on February 2, 2020. Mais Othman.

Saliba was moved by the sight of the dead birds and so she decided to ask one of the university’s security guards about what might have been the reason behind the death of so many birds. “He told me that the university tried to kill the crows with poisoned food, but the small birds ate it instead, so that’s why they died,” Saliba said.

AUD Security Supervisor Tammam Tannous denied categorically that the university had used poison to kill any birds. He said that it is illegal in the United Arab Emirates to poison birds. “I don’t know where this story comes from,” he told the Post. 

Tammam Tannous in his office in the American University in Dubai on February 5, 2020. Mais Othman.

Tannous, however, acknowledged that AUD has a problem with the high number of birds on campus, especially crows. He said AUD had sent letters to the Dubai Municipality about the issue. “They recommended machines that give out signals to send birds away, but they’re very expensive, have a 60 to 70% chance of working, and they might not be healthy for people, so of course we are not going to buy them.”    

The crows mainly live in trees next to the dorms; they can be very noisy and, on rare occasions, could attack people. “There are no reported incidents of students being attacked by the crows,” said Tannous, “but we’ve had three reported incidents of injuries among faculty members because of the crows’ attacks in the past few years.”

Rashmonda Ali, a 20-year-old Egyptian-Omani student, said that she was once attacked by crows on campus but didn’t report the incident. She still recalls her fright, when one day a crow suddenly grabbed her hair and started attacking her head and hands with its beak and claws. She just dropped the sculpture she was carrying and ran into the building to hide from the bird. “These crows have genuinely created a fear from birds for me. When I go back to Oman, if I see a crow, I automatically try to hide, and I immediately gathered all my belongings and food,” she said in an interview.  

Rashmonda Ali sitting in a smoking area in the American University in Dubai on February 2, 2020. Mais Othman.

The mystery remains as AUD’s security department didn’t give a clear explanation as to why some birds were dying on campus, or how to prevent future attacks by birds on students and staff. And even though there may be too many noisy birds on campus, Jizelle Saliba insists that no harm should be done to birds. “Hearing the birds’ chirping while going to class is an important part of the day that should be respected.” 

Video courtesy to Rashmonda Ali.

Edited by: Farah Mohamed

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