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Pro-animal groups appeal to pope following dove attack

ROME--Animal rights groups on Monday appealed to Pope Francis to end the practice of releasing doves from a Vatican window overlooking St. Peter's Square, a day after a pair of the peace symbols were attacked by a seagull and crow while a crowd including thousands of children watched below.

The National Animal Protection Agency published an open letter Monday reminding Francis that domesticated doves are easy prey for predators like gulls.

Gulls nest atop the colonnade of St. Peter's Square, near the Tiber River, and scavenge for garbage in Rome. The animal protection agency, known as ENPA, said freeing doves in Rome is like “condemning them to certain death.”

“Animals born in captivity, not being wild animals, aren't able to recognize predators as such and are thus incapable of fleeing from possible dangerous situations,” ENPA said, adding it was launching a signature petition to garner the pope's attention.

An umbrella group of animal rights advocates, the Italian Federation of Animal and Environment Rights Associations, carried a text of the letter on its website.

The two doves tossed into the air by two children flanking the pope at an open window of the Apostolic Palace Sunday didn't go far, landing at first on ledges of the building. In separate dives, first a seagull and then a large black grow swept down and grabbed a dove by the tail. Feathers fluttered over the square but the doves shook off their attackers. It wasn't clear what then happened to the birds.

The Vatican earlier Monday didn't reply to an AP query about whether it might abandon the practice.

Pope John Paul II began the dove releases as a symbol of peace. Since then, children from an Italian Catholic group have been invited to join popes at the window overlooking the square for the dove release, which takes place the last Sunday in January. Sunday wasn't the first time a dove was attacked by a seagull after a release.

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A dove which was freed by children with Pope Francis during his Angelus prayer is attacked by a black crow in St. Peter's Square at the Vatican on Sunday, Jan. 26.

(AP)

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