The sport of pigeon racing has grown more popular over the years throughout Europe and Asia. In pigeon races, trained pigeons are released from certain locations and then race back to their home lots. The fastest and first pigeon to reach their home lot wins the race. Although it is not illegal in some countries, pigeon racing is a form of gambling, making several wildlife experts and environmental supporters strongly opposed to it. This peculiar sport originated in Belgium, where recently a pigeon named Armando was sold for $1.4 million.
At an auction held on Pigeon Paradise (PIPA), a website that auctions pigeons from all over the world, a Chinese buyer purchased Armando for $1.4 million. Armando is the most expensive bird to ever be sold in a pigeon racing auction, beating the record of $450,000 in 2017 for a pigeon named Nadine. Armando is said to be the best racing pigeon “of all time,” according to PIPA. He has won several long-distance races preceding the auction and also won the title of the 1st Olympic Pigeon in a race in Poland.
Jiangming Liu, who works for PIPA in China, said that Armando was destined to fetch a high price, however everybody was surprised when the price reached $1.4 million. The reason for such a high price has to do with more people becoming interested and participating in the sport of pigeon racing.
“Now other people, like regular people, are joining too. It will be bigger in the future,” Liu said.
Joël Verschoot, the Belgian breeder who sold Armando, has sold 178 pigeons in the past for over $2.5 million, including 7 of Armando’s offspring.
“People are like that for sports. It is similar to how people bet on greyhounds and horses. If people are into a sport, they will pay a lot for it,” said Gino Crocetti, Specials and Academic Supporter.
People do not only choose their racing pigeons for their talent, but they hope that the talent will be passed on to a pigeon’s offspring. The buyer who purchased Armando, has hopes that he will produce more offspring.
Pigeon breeders train their racing pigeons when they are a few weeks old and teach them to stay aloft for as long as 12 hours. They are also taught to land only on their home lots, because if the racing pigeons land anywhere else, it is disqualified.
“They are trained not to land anywhere else. This is a matter of respect for our sport,” said Raju Iftikhar Ahmed, a pigeon breeder in Pakistan.
One might wonder: How can a pigeon find their way to their home loft from several miles away? According to The Pigeon Control Research Center, pigeons sense the Earth’s magnetic field and use the sun for direction. Some experts also theorize that pigeons use roads and seismic waves, waves of energy that travel throughout Earth.
In parts of Asia, pigeons are prized animals because of their rarity in these regions, and are worth thousands of dollars. However, in the eyes of a New Yorker, it is surprising to hear that a pigeon was purchased for such an exorbitant price. For a New Yorker, pigeons are constantly roaming the streets feeding on our leftover breadcrumbs or seeds. The estimate for the number of these white-rumped birds in New York City alone is approximately over 1 million.
“I think that it is ridiculous to race pigeons. What makes them so special? We see them on the streets of NYC all the time. I do think it is interesting that people chose such a common animal [for us] to race and sell,” said Parker Sproule, XIIIs.
Because pigeons are set to certain physical standards in pigeon racing, several people are opposed to the sport.
About 7 years ago, PETA, or the People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals, conducted a 5 month undercover investigation of the sport of pigeon racing in five states. They documented abusive training methods, the killing of unwanted pigeons and casualties during races. This included the stretching of a pigeon’s head and the uncomfortable transportation of these birds, which had several pigeons cramped inside small cages. PETA learned that 60% of birds die or get lost during races, which can be as long as 600 miles. One cause of this is due to a training method, where pigeons are released miles away from their home loft and have to find their way back to a certain spot. Each day, the mileage increases. It is common for pigeons to get lost while trying to find their way to their home loft. Therefore in certain places, pigeon racing is illegal, although in others it is not.
Despite what PETA uncovered about pigeon racing, the sport continues.
PIPA, the website Armando was sold on, lists their priorities in the following mission statement:
“First, to provide pigeon fanciers with up to date, correct and fast worldwide pigeon news and to bring together the worldwide community of pigeon racers. Second, to act as [a] trader online, offline and via public auctions of the highest quality pigeons. Third, to preserve and collect the best genetic material in the PIPA Elite Center.”
Armando’s purchase was a shocking outcome that took everybody in the pigeon racing world by storm.
“This pigeon is worth more than me at the moment. I strive to be more than that pigeon in the future,” Bryan Lau, XIIIs, joked.
The next time you see a pigeon on the streets, whether you are walking to school or taking a trip through the city, think about how such a simple animal, in your eyes, is valuable in other parts of the Earth and are even purchased for the high price of $1.4 million.
Sources: PIPA, Newsela, CNN, PETA, Pigeon Control Research Center.