21 July 2012;update:23 May 2013

Pigeon Racing

Youtube Video: A 6 min video (Jack Dillon's Pigeons) to show the ambience of a pigeon loft

Birds have been kept as pet since ancient times. In falconry, the old sports for noblemen, birds-of-prey were raised to hunt other animals or birds. In the other gentler side, pigeons were also bred and trained; in this case, they carried messages for their keepers, often, in sieges or other difficult situations. Many commanders relied on the homing ability of pigeons to pass information to the outside. In World War I, a brave American pigeon, Cheri Ami, won the Croix de Guerre with Palm by delivering 12 messages to save the lives of a lost battalion of the 77th Infantry Division at Verdun. The employ of carrier pigeons for remote posts was fading out by 1950s; nevertheless, Chinese have now started to develop new carrier-pigeon units to back up modern communication equipment in case of interference by electronic or electromagnetic jamming. Nowadays, some pigeon fanciers have devoted to the sport of racing pigeons, which has probably 80 years of history.

The latest World record of sale price of a pigeon at an auction was fetched by a Belgian racing pigeon called Bolt at 310,000 euros (about £260,000; US$400,000) in May 2013. The previous record was £209,000 (US$328,000) in January 2012, beating the November 2011 highest record of £142,000 (US$220,000). The successful bidder was again a businessman from China.

At the 2012 internet auction held by Pigeon Paradise (PIPA), Mr. Hu Zhen Yu, a Chinese shipping magnate, bought the hen of Dolce Vita breed for breeding, not for racing. Pigeon races are catching up in Asia from Taiwan to China and Japan, and money has lured enthusiasts in big events - tens of thousands of pigeons were released each and a winner netted 10 million yuans (US$1.5 million) in a recent 300 mile in China. The high price of the pigeons has sparked debates among the racing communities as most of their members are only of middle class. The bidding price of squads or unfledged pigeons may start from US$20. The base price is typical about $300 for untested young birds in the United States and the highest price for pedigreed ones or champions may reach to $25,000. This new Asian interest might have unnerved the European fanciers, although the breeders seem to welcome the demand of their top pigeon stocks . The sport of pigeon racing is only confined for enthusiasts worldwide, although, Mike Tyson, the heavyweight boxing legend, might now have brought some attention to this sport in the United States.

The sport itself has its own controversies. The distance of a race ranges from 100 to over 900 miles. According to statistics, a sizeable number of race pigeons has never returned home. One could only speculate on the fate of the pigeons . In Taiwan, they have races held over the ocean in which some pigeons were documented dropping and drowning in the water. In a new 15-month investigation by PETA (People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals) on pigeon racing reports on abusive practices in training, killing of unwanted birds and illegal gambling amounted to $15 million in the United States.

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