Europe, America and now the elites of Bangladesh    

The illustrious sport of pigeon racing

The Queen Elizabeth II of Great Britain has an unusual fancy. She is an avid pigeon lover and keeps her racing pigeons at the Royal Lofts at Sandringham, where she owns a palace.

Flocks of pigeons just released at the start of a pigeon race

Flocks of pigeons just released at the start of a pigeon race

Many other great names come up with the hobby of pigeon racing. They include Elvis Presley, Marlon Brando, Charles Darwin, artist Claude Monet and Walt Disney, only to name a few.

The names above have one thing in common above all – they were wealthy individuals. They could afford to fancy pigeon racing. But for a common Bangladeshi, this hobby is bit too much when it comes to the financial side of it. Traditionally pigeons, probably the oldest domesticated birds, have been part of many houses in rural and urban areas. Pigeons brought easy revenue, due to their quick reproductive nature. Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman, the father of the nation of Bangladesh, was an avid pigeon lover and kept a large flock of pigeons in his Dhanmondi residence. Till today, visitors can find the traditional wooden loft in the memorial museum at Dhanmondi, Road 32. It is never heard that Bangladeshi’s indulged in pigeon racing. It has been a sport mainly associated with the aristocrats of Europe, America and some rich Arab countries.

But believe it or not, Dhaka now has three pigeon racing clubs with several hundred members from an exclusive class of society. These members, out of sheer love of the sport; breed, rear, race and sometimes even trade some formidably athletic birds imported from different parts of the world. The specially trained and conditioned pigeons are capable of returning home from as far as a thousand kilometers or more.

Queen Elizabeth II seen with a racing pigeon in her hands in her early days.

Queen Elizabeth II seen with a racing pigeon in her hands in her early days.

In Bangladesh, races are held almost every week depending on the weather. The procedures of the race are simple. Every member takes his pigeons, numbering between 5 and 50 or more, to the club the night before the race. The club organizes the transport of several hundred of these pigeons overnight to a selected district, say Sirajganj. Early morning next day, the birds are released all at the same time from there. The bird that reaches its loft in Dhaka in the shortest time wins the race. Now the question is how do you know which one reaches its home first. All these birds are electronically tagged. As soon as it lands on its loft back home, a computer records the time and its flight velocity and gives out a printout. The result sheet released by the club is official and authenticated by a near foolproof system. The exciting part is that very often the margin between two birds is one hundredth of a second. The winner could walk away with prize money of up to Tk. 200,000.

These clubs are mainly based in Dhaka. Abdullah al Mamun, an executive in a firm in Panthapath and a resident of Dhanmondi rears and breeds such pigeons as a hobby. On the rooftop of his residence he maintains a flock of around 50 pigeons of which each one has a certified pedigree history. A member of Bangladesh Racing Pigeons Entrepreneur Ltd., Mamum says anyone willing to take up the hobby must get hold of a good pedigree pair first.

“I started after buying a pair of racing pigeons from an online international auction based in Belgium,” he says.

However, you cannot just buy a pair and start racing. The pair must first breed while they remain encaged throughout their lives. The offspring of the pair can only race within months of their births. The pigeons’ return to the homes of their birth when they are even released more than a thousand kilometers away. Once the young pigeons gain enough confidence and experience, they can repeat their marvelous feat for year after year, even up to a decade.

“Only the ones born to the imported pair in their houses, reared and trained with passion will be less likely to go off track during the race,” Mamun adds.

“If you are a successful breeder of pedigree pigeons, you could earn substantially in the racing trade too,” he adds. “The nitty-gritties of the whole process of breeding, rearing and trading stretch over a huge area that can only be supported by money and passion.”

A racing pigeon with a distinct pedigree.

A racing pigeon with a distinct pedigree.

One of the oldest sports, it is believed pigeon racing dates back to as early as 220 AD in Europe. One of the main reasons behind this was that these pigeons were used for the transport of messages over long distances. In the 19th century, the sport became extremely popular in Belgium. Today, the sport has spread worldwide among a select few well off individuals who still spend a lot of money towards the hobby. A single pigeon, with pedigree record for fast flight and endurance could cost as much as Tk. 150,000 in the Bangladeshi market.

The pigeon racing in Bangladesh is similar to the ones in the rest of the world but the distance from which the birds are supposed to return home is restricted between 100 and 300 kilometers in the country. European prestigious pigeon races cover up to a thousand kilometers and are participated by hundreds of international hobbyists.

 

Debacles

Almost every pigeon race is always prone to a series of debacles or disasters. During the races, a large number of pigeons simply do not ever reach their race destination. This happens due to various reasons including exhaustion, and races taking place in inclement weather conditions. Many of the pigeons fall prey to predatory birds such as peregrine falcon during their flights. Electric wires and television antennas also confuse the fast flying birds. Many fanciers use expensive drugs these days to enhance performance of their flocks. These drugs warn people not to consume the meat of the animal on which it has been administered.

 

Significance of pigeons

The importance of homing pigeons in the centuries before electronic communications, such as the telegraph, telephone, airmail and even e-mail, is seldom recognised. They carried vital information and communication over long distances in both war and peace. One such example is of the Reuters News Agency, one of the world’s largest information providers, which began as a pigeon service carrying closing stock prices between Belgium and Germany.

Report by: Morshed Ali Khan

Photos: Courtesy

 

 

 

 

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Posted by on Mar 22 2015. Filed under Home Slide, National, Nature, Sports. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0. You can leave a response or trackback to this entry

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