The square’s birdman

Steve Kogo feeds pigeons in Greenmarket Square.

Everyday a former insurance-broker turned street vendor attracts curious stares from by-passers as he scatters a bag of mealies to pigeons on Greenmarket Square.

The birds swarm over Steve Kipambe Kogo’s head as he throws mealies to a sea of blue and grey birds.

Steve, a Kenyan native and keen runner, settled in Cape Town 15 years ago.

He is driven by a love of animals. “I just love animals, all animals not only birds,” he said.

Growing up in a Nandi County village in the North Rift of Kenya, Steve grew attached to animals as he shepherded his family’s goats and cattle.

“Looking after animals left a huge impression on me. As you know Kenya produces competitive and fast athletes, being with animals gave me time to relax and be peaceful,” he said.

Steve’s athletic prowess earned him a scholarship at the Fairleigh Dickinson University, in Teaneck, New Jersey, to study public relations and media, in 1985.

Remarkably, he notched up 12 wins while in America, in long-distance races ranging between 10 000m and 21km. His last recorded victory was a 28 minute, 23 seconds finish in the San Fransisco, 10km race on December 1, 1991.

“It was a nice experience for me because most of Kenya’s runners were looked after. I returned home and then decided that I must come to South Africa,” he said.

When he came here he started working at Old Mutual before the entrepreneurial spirit engulfed him. “I missed my country so much that I quit my job and started designing and making clothes and accessories with rich Kenyan culture and using colours to tell different stories,” he said.

As Steve tells his own colourful story, four pigeons follow him to his stand and feast without fear. “They know me and are not scared of people, I normally pick up the one with a broken wing or leg and let them heal at my garage.” He smiles and throws more mealies on the ground.

In some countries, pigeon feeding is frowned upon. In Canada, Bill Dowd started Skedaddle Human Wildlife Control, which views pigeons as pests that should not be fed.

“When pigeons congregate on a ledge, sign or balcony they can cause property damage and create unsanitary conditions. Feeding the pigeons is a big no-no and bird control can be utilised to remove such pesky creatures,” the organisation’s website says.

But Steve said that in Africa, pigeons are part of life and it would be difficult to enforce such laws.

“Tourists like it when they see me feeding these birds. In their countries these birds are treated differently,” he said.