In this picture taken on January 26, 2014, 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. Picture: Gregorio Borgia


Rome - Animal rights groups are appealing to Pope Francis to end a practice of releasing doves over St. Peter's Square, a day after a pair of the peace symbols were attacked by a seagull and crow.

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, far from natural seaside habitats, scavenging for garbage in Rome. The agency said freeing doves in Rome is like “condemning them to certain death.”

Pro-animal advocate and ex-tourism minister Michela Brambilla told The AP she was confident that Francis, with his “extraordinary love” for all creatures, would reconsider. The Vatican didn't immediately comment on the dove attack.