Several hundred pigeons flew the coop late Tuesday after North Las Vegas officials objected to their controversial sanctuary.
The pigeons are safe, assured Nephi Oliva, embattled owner of Nevada Pigeon Control. And they haven’t simply taken flight. Instead, they remain caged, hidden at an undisclosed location.
"The pigeons are fugitives," Oliva said earlier Tuesday, his voice barely audible over a tornado of flapping wings.
The 36-year-old was crouched in the center of his giant chain-link coop in an industrial area near Cheyenne Avenue and Commerce Street. He was plucking pigeons one by one out of the air like so many winged baseballs.
He then gently placed each captured bird in a dog kennel for transport. To where, he refused to say.
"They’ll be out of North Las Vegas, that’s for sure."
Oliva’s troubles began last month when city officials told him he could no longer provide a safe haven for unwanted pigeons. The city said the facility wasn’t licensed accurately, doesn’t comply with neighborhood zoning and poses a threat to public health.
Officials also weren’t crazy about Oliva advertising his business as a "public utility" or about his chosen uniform, which includes a metallic, star-shaped pin that resembles a law enforcement badge.
But Oliva refused to get rid of the birds, vowing to fight the matter all the way to court if necessary.
"I’m no punk," he said. "I’m a fighter. The last thing you want to do is piss off a guy who understands pigeons."
The problem is Oliva can’t afford to pay fines he might incur for continuing to house the pigeons in North Las Vegas, he said.
He spent several days searching for somewhere to stow them in time for the city’s Tuesday deadline.
Officials had offered to help Oliva move the birds to Lied Animal Shelter, and that’s where they expected the pigeons to wind up this week.
"Our expectation is that he (Oliva) will comply," Tim Bedwell, a North Las Vegas police spokesman, said Tuesday.
The pigeons will "get examined by a vet, and then Lied will make a determination of what happens to them," he said.
In a Wednesday voice mail message, Jason Smith, Lied’s director of operations, said the shelter had prepared to receive "a few hundred" birds.
"We have pens we use for wildlife like that," he said.
Smith didn’t respond to a follow-up message asking whether any of the pigeons would be euthanized or set free if brought to the shelter.
Oliva said he couldn’t risk either.
Any released birds would "know my tricks," he said. "The only way to catch them again would be to shoot them. We’re not exterminators."
So Oliva decided on a hidden, "mobile sanctuary" for the birds until he figures out his next move.
He acknowledged some might think him coo-coo for battling the city over a few hundred animals most consider vermin.
But Oliva has always been a champion for unwanted creatures.
"I was the one who had all the sick and wounded animals," he said. "I had a pelican, possums, a skunk. I wanted to be a veterinarian but couldn’t handle the killing part of it."
He got a North Las Vegas business license late last year, envisioning a place where pigeons could live out their lives in peace instead of being killed or simply released to create more problems for homeowners and businesses.
Since then, he has captured thousands of pigeons. He admits to exterminating many of the birds because they were injured, too hard to catch or were carrying diseases.
The rest he stored in a 6-foot-high, 65-foot-long aviary.
Oliva needs approval from the city’s planning and zoning department and animal control division to operate the sanctuary, officials said.
Oliva said he doesn’t expect to win such approval.
Still, he won’t give up. And he won’t turn over the birds.
"It’s better to lose fighting than to quit."
Review-Journal writer Henry Brean contributed to this report. Contact reporter Lynnette Curtis at firstname.lastname@example.org or 702-383-0285.