x Abu Dhabi, UAEMonday 24 July 2017

Residents in a flap about noisy chickens

Though chickens are not allowed on private property within the city, the noisy birds are woven into the fabric of Abu Dhabi life.

Asha Wolf, 18 months, plays with one of her family's pet chickens in Khalifa City B.
Asha Wolf, 18 months, plays with one of her family's pet chickens in Khalifa City B.

ABU DHABI // Well before dawn each morning, Rudi Du Plessis is woken by the sound of roosters crowing outside his villa in Al Bateen.

"Once one starts crowing, then they all start," said Mr Du Plessis, whose week-old daughter, Heidi, is often startled awake by the noisy fowl.

"It's gotten so bad that I wear earplugs to bed and my wife sleeps on the other side of the house with the baby."

One nearby family keeps at least five roosters on their property in the busy neighbourhood. Another two neighbours keep at least one rooster each, with about a dozen hens.

"There's no way you can sleep with the windows open, which is such a shame because it is so nice out right now," said Mr Du Plessis's wife, Dolcinea. "It's getting out of control."

The chickens are often seen wandering around the neighbourhood, scratching in gardens or taking up watch on fences. They mingle with the local cats and stand in the middle of the road.

Residents across the capital report similar situations, particularly in Al Khalidiyah and Al Mushrif.

Khalifa Al Romaithi, the director of public health for Abu Dhabi Municipality, said that keeping chickens on private property was not allowed and the municipality would remove them if neighbours complained.

"This is not a very big problem in Abu Dhabi," Mr Al Romaithi said. "We get calls about chickens maybe once a month but they are not allowed. Other animals, too, like camels and goats are not allowed."

He said residents could call the municipal complaints line (800 22220) to report backyard barn animals, and inspectors would issue warnings to owners. He did not outline fines or provide specific regulations.

But Mr Du Plessis said he had made several calls to the municipality.

"This has been going on for years and the municipality hasn't done anything," he said. "I don't know what to do any more. We're so frustrated."

Chicken owners in the capital said keeping the birds as pets is part of the local culture.

Kholloud Al Muraikhi, an Emirati photographer, said her family had kept chickens for decades. In her Khalifa City A neighbourhood, they are not the only ones.

"It's natural here," Ms Al Muraikhi said. "Most people here like to have animals in their yards."

She said the roosters also served a religious purpose. The morning crow was "like another way of calling to prayer".

Some Muslims also believe roosters can sense the presence of angels and will crow when they see one, Ms Al Muraikhi said.

"We're used to them," she said. "It's sort of comforting. They crow every morning, and we use them as kind of an alarm."

She said her neighbours had never complained, and many area chickens roamed free during the day before returning home at night.

Vanessa Wolf, an Australian who at one point kept 10 chickens at her Khalifa City B villa, said the birds helped to teach her daughter life lessons.

"We grew up with them ourselves and we wanted our kids to grow up around animals and learn how to take care of them," Mrs Wolf said. "And it's not as big a commitment as a dog or cat."

At one point the Wolf family had five roosters but "no one seems to mind", she said.

"We told everyone, 'We won't get ticked off if you tell us to get rid of them'," Mrs Wolf said.

The family eats the fresh eggs and keeps the "chooks" in a coop at night.

For Mr Du Plessis, chickens that live in yards or farms are not a part of the problem. "It's an urban environment and many people around here are irritated by the roosters," he said.

"They don't belong in a community like this. I think they should take them out to farms where they won't bother anyone."

jthomas@thenational.ae