In her flat in Rome, Emanuela Tripi awoke at dawn to the sounds of a home invasion. She crept into her kitchen and spotted the culprit – long white neck, red-rimmed eyes, yellow-webbed feet – stabbing its beak into a garbage bag. Growing up, Tripi always had a romantic vision of seagulls, but now she was face to face with a predator that has aggressively colonised a city a good 32km from the sea. She threw a slipper. It cawed, took flight and charged.
“Arrivederci, you win,” she thought as she ran out of the kitchen. She banged on the door to scare off a bird she described as “enormous, above my knee, as big as an American .” But it stayed “like it was its place” she said, until it was done eating and flew back out the window.
Romans have for years bemoaned the degradation of their city: the potholes, the unkempt parks and the uncollected garbage. But the sea gulls aren‘t complaining. “We‘ve told them Rome is their home,” said Francesca Manzia, the director of the Italian League for in Rome. The population in the city has grown in recent years to the tens of thousands, according to some experts. Their physical dimension has grown, too, as they gorge on the smorgasbord of trash and handouts from complicit tourists.
The birds, which can live for decades, have settled comfortably in the city‘s rooftops, church towers and ancient ruins. “Once in with a new species – us – they have learned to respond,” said Manzia, who explains sea gulls interpret human handouts as a sign of submission. With no culling plans in the works, Manzia said she has explained to officials they need to clean the city and improve Roman behaviour if they want to reduce the sea gull population. “The city says, ‘Impossible,‘ ” she said. The birds. however, can‘t be blamed for following their instincts. But it‘s hard to forgive them their smell. “Being an animal that eats garbage,” she said, “they stink like garbage.”
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