Table of Contents:
- Pigeon racing the new sport of kings
- The long haul home
- Welcome to the chaos of pigeon racing: Spiraling auction prices, criminal bird gangs, and a mad gambling boom.
Pirates, predators, power lines and poor luck — they brave it all for hundreds of miles, while carrying along the million-dollar hopes of the haves and have-nots. Pigeons are the new thoroughbreds in China and everyone has taken notice — breeders in Europe and even the feed industry in the United States.
Pigeon racing goes back hundreds of years and probably a lot longer. The races are held in countries across the globe, but the sport is at fever pitch in China. From Vice: “Twenty years ago — sort of a poor man’s delicacy, but now with the new Chinese economy, it’s become a rich man’s play thing.”
China’s nouveau riche love designer handbags, the finest wine, and sleek cars — but they’re also quick to slap down bags of cash on a pigeon. Money is swirling around Chinese pigeon racing, and the torrent shows no signs of abatement. In 2011, a Chinese entrepreneur payed $200,000 for a pigeon — Blue Prince — at PiPa, the world’s premier pigeon auction house located in Belgium. PiPa sold 218 pigeons that day — for an astounding $1.8 million.
And in 2013, PiPa sold Bolt (named after Olympic sprinter Usain Bolt) to another Chinese businessman for $400,000. An entire lot of 530 Belgian-bred pigeons went for almost $6 million that day, with nine of the 10 most expensive birds headed to China or Taiwan. (In 2009, The Telegraph reported that Chinese mafia gangs were hitting Belgian pigeon coops and stealing the prized birds. “Rather than attempting to smuggle their prey abroad, criminals will kill the pigeons and cut of their identifying rings to be used on much less valuable birds bred in Asia.”)
Blue Prince, Bolt and the other auction birds weren’t bought to race; they are strictly for breeding. As PiPa’s Ya Minna told The Independent, “A pigeon is a far better investment than a fine bottle of vintage wine. You can breed it; it will have children and grandchildren.”
Pigeons may look ordinary, but the actual races are a subculture of chaos. With entry fees ranging from a $200-$1,000, several thousand birds are loaded onto a communal truck and the trek to the starting line begins. The winner will not be the first pigeon to return. The birds are all banded with GPS locators and when they arrive home at their individual coops, a scanner records the arrival time and the winner is determined according to which pigeon flew home at the highest average speed. (This is a sport tailor-made for hijinks and corruption.)