Aerial athletes

Muhammad Ibrahim Ibne Towhid reveals the passionate pigeon owners who race their birds on regular intervals in the country

use

Unknown to many other than the pigeon owners, Pigeons are from the Columbidae bird family, which includes as many as 310 varied species including the Dove. Humans have had a relationship with pigeons in various sectors including military, domestication, in religion and as food item. Pigeons also contributed to both World War I and II, notably in the forces of Australia, France, Germany, America and United Kingdom.

History says that 32 pigeons have been decorated with the Dickin Medal for war contributions, including Commando, G.I. Joe, Paddy and William of Orange. Cher Ami, a homing pigeon in the Great War, was awarded the ‘Croix de Guerre’ Medal with a palm Oak Leaf Cluster for her service in Verdun and for delivering the message that saved the Lost Battalion of the 77th Infantry Division in the Battle of the Argonne on October 1918. When Cher Ami passed away, she was mounted and is now part of the permanent exhibit at the National Museum of American History of the Smithsonian Institution.

In order to commemorate a platoon of pigeons that braved the battlefields of Normandy to deliver vital plans to Allied forces on the fringes of Germany, a grand ceremony was held in Buckingham Palace. Three of the actual birds receiving the medals are on show in the London Military Museum so that well-wishers can pay their respects.

As the world has developed a long way in terms of technology, pigeon has been symbols of peace and also its racing has turned into a sport.  Pigeon racing is a sport where specially trained pigeons return to their homes over a carefully measured distance. The time taken to cover the specified distance is then measured and the bird’s rate of travel is calculated and compared with all the other pigeons in the race to determine which animal returned at the highest velocity.

Pigeon racing requires a specific breed of pigeon, the Racing Homer which has been selectively bred for more speed and enhanced homing instinct for the sport.

Competing pigeons are specially trained and conditioned for races that vary in distance for approximately 100 to 1,000 kilometres. Despite the long set distances for the race, trophies can be won or lost by seconds. The traditional timing method involves rubber rings being placed into a specially designed clock.

With little proof, there are compelling reasons to think that the sport can be traced to as far back as 220 AD. During the middle of the 19thcentury, the sport achieved a great deal of popularity in Belgium. So taken back with the hobby, Belgian pigeon fanciers began developing specially bred pigeons for fast flight and long endurance called ‘Voyageurs’. From Belgium, the modern version of the sport developed, spreading to most parts of the world.

Pigeon racing started in Bangladesh in 2003 with Ajoy Sinha and some other pigeon owners bringing racing homers and starting a pigeon racing club. Today, there are three racing clubs in Dhaka. Two more have opened in Sylhet and Chittagong. In Dhaka, pigeon racing lovers can be seen more in the Old town, Dhanmondi, Mirpur and Uttara.

The three clubs in Dhaka are Bangladesh Racing Pigeon Fanciers Club (BRPFC), Bangladesh Racing Pigeon Owner’s Association(BRPOA) and Bangladesh Racing Pigeons Entrepreneur Limited(BRPEL). Each club has more than 5,000 members and more than 200 people on average are regulars who take part in racing. Any fancier can take part in one race with as many as 100 pigeons.

Abu Bakar Noman, a businessman from the Old town, used to pet fancy pigeons. This year he took part in a race for the first time. Noman says, ‘One day last year I bought a racer from a person at Tk 3,000. When it grew and learnt to stretch its wings, I set it free. As it got out of the cage, it flew away at a high speed. I was depressed thinking that I have lost it.’

However, the pigeon returned around evening. ‘As it came back to its home, I was extremely thrilled and the joy I felt cannot be expressed in words,’ says Noman. ‘I had sold all my fancy pigeons to buy only one racer,’ he adds.

Noman was introduced with the racing competition from online groups and also became a member of a club. ‘This year, I participated up to 250km race with 10 pigeons. Although my birds did not win anything, I was happy that all the birds came back to their home. I sold those 10 birds and have bought a better breed of bird,’ he shares.

The racing in Bangladesh takes place during winter, starting from November to March. There are three races from the North and the South each. The race starts with 100km and the distance increases each week. The longest race in the country was held from St. Martin’s Island to Dhaka in which 500 birds took part. Normally, in a national race, where all the clubs compete, 5,000 birds are flown at a time.

‘We normally train our birds at up to 100kilometres,’ says Noman. Before the race day,the birds are taken to the club. The bird is tagged with a plastic number ring which bears its identification number.

On the eve of the race, another chipped ring is tied on the other leg from the club. Then the club matches the time on the timer and enters the unique number and chip number in the software of the club. It then takes the birds to the racing point from where they are scheduled to be released next morning.

‘In the morning all the racers are set free at the same time and they use their instinct to return home. As the pigeons come back to the cage, they are scanned automatically by the sensor placed in the entrance of the cage. All the fanciers take the clocks back to the club on the evening of the race and then the velocity is calculated. The racers with more velocities win the race,’ Noman explains.

11 (1)

All the birds that take part in the race cannot make it home. Some are killed by Falcons and Sparrow Hawks while others get lost, takes rest or flies to other places. It is sheer luck on the parts of those pigeons who get the first position. But a good fancier usually secures the position of top 100 with his birds.

There is prize money for all the top 500 pigeons, while the top 20 gets most of the prize money starting atTk 50,000 for each. The entry charge for the race is Tk 100-150, while there are other charges like membership fee and charge for the unique identification number of the bird which is sold by the club.

Abdullah Al Mamun is a fancier from Dhanmondi whose racer secured the eighth position in the recent race that was held last month. He says, ‘We have to train our pigeons. At first we have to familiarise them with their homes and then train them to fly distances along with doing routing within a 5 kilometres radius.’

The training and feeding of the birds are done on schedules, according to the pigeon owners. ‘A slight deviation of the routine might result in bad performance. The main thing is that the birds need to be fit,’ says Mamun.

The weather is a big factor for the race. Some pigeons are good with head-wind, while others are good in tail-wind, dividing the racers into the categories of sprinters and marathoners. The other important thing is that the pigeons need to have a sharp instinct, good body structure, feather and muscle.

Syed Shovon, another fancier from Mirpur, says, ‘The training of the birds is followed by secret techniques. There is a huge market of buying and selling racing homers in the country. Many people even have become wealthy by selling pigeons to India which is a potential market.’

The fanciers shared that in Bangladesh, many people run their families by selling pigeons with good pedigree. ‘The velocity of the racer depends on many factors such as the lean muscle, the different colours of the eye in the five different layers and the time of change of the feather. The velocity and fitness of the pigeons can also be manipulated by using steroids, vitamins, medicine and simply doping’, says Shovon.

The ace-pigeon is a racer that has won six races in a row in the top positions. This bird has high resale value as well as for breeding. The life expectancy of a pigeon is around 20 years, while it can race for five years.

The pigeons of good pedigree are sold in online auctions. Auctions in the country take place in the clubs and also in online social media platforms. A pigeon is considered to be of ‘good pedigree’ if its parents and grandparents win many trophies in races and have displayed consistently good performance.

BE13-3031767

The racing birds are bought mostly through online auction which runs live online for months. The most popular website in the world is www.pipa.be. The Gino Clicque auction closed last week where the overall revenue amounted to Euro 2,145,375 for 405 pigeons with an average of Euro 5,297 per pigeon.

Golden Prince was the star of the auction surpassing the previous record of Bolt of Leo Heremans (Euro 310,000) few hours before the auction closed. The winning bid was a new world a record breaking at 360,000 EURO bought by a combination from South Africa: Samuel Mbiza and Mark Kitchenbrand.

With the advancement of technology each pigeon is assessed with its gene type. In the country, more people are become involved in pigeon racing recently out of passion. Many people have also been inspired by Mike Tyson on the pugilist and pigeon fancier’s programme on Discovery Channel, where the boxer revealed his unlikely obsession.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *