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'It Was Raining Pigeons': Millions Die in Taiwan Sea Races

"It was raining pigeons – literally. I've never seen such a scene. ... Every one of them crashed onto the boat. ... Some crashed into the ocean. … About one hour after the pigeon rain, you could see the whole surface of the ocean filled with dead pigeons." – Taiwanese fishing boat captain

Millions of homing pigeons die every year during Taiwan's seasonal pigeon races, gruelling sets of seven races over the open ocean from ever-increasing distances. Young birds – not even 1 year old – are shipped out to sea and forced to fly back to their home lofts even in the midst of typhoon-strength winds. Most often, less than 1 per cent of these highly intelligent birds will complete each seven-race series – many will drown from exhaustion, perish in the storms or be killed for being too slow.

PETA US investigators went undercover at the largest pigeon-racing club in southern Taiwan from June to October 2013. They infiltrated this secretive industry, obtaining access to racing lofts, "shipping night" (during which the birds are registered and put in cargo crates) and even a ship from which the pigeons were released. Investigators recorded officials and participants admitting to millions of dollars in illegal bets and documented massive losses of birds as a result of this ruthless "sport". Watch the footage here:

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Top racers and high-ranking club officials admitted to deadly conditions for the birds, who fly with untreated injuries, without enough rest between races, and through heavy rainstorms. PETA US investigators captured video footage of a race in which tens of thousands of birds disappeared and were presumed to have drowned. Even birds who survive these extreme conditions may be culled (have their necks broken) by their owners if they do not make the qualifying time for the next race in the series. Pigeons are smart, gentle and loyal birds. They bond for life and can live more than 20 years. Yet almost all the birds who begin their lives as racing pigeons in Taiwan perish in their first year of life.

Money – not just entry fees but large, illegal wagers – fuels the multibillion-dollar pigeon-racing industry in Taiwan. Wealthy racers pay upwards of $100,000 for imported breeder birds, and top fliers admitted to making millions on a single race. "Prizes" such as refrigerators are listed on gambling sheets as a cover for the cash bets that are the main draw of these events. Some racers boasted that government law enforcement "can't catch us". The chance to win staggering sums leads to extortion, the kidnapping and even drugging of birds and the use of rigorous anti-cheating systems that involve using RFID tags, putting multiple stamps on birds' wings for identity, covering birds' leg ring numbers and meticulously comparing photographs of the birds' feathers.

An international web of commerce supports Taiwan racing: breeder birds are bought and sold for thousands of pounds from champion fliers in the UK and around the world. These birds are kept as "prisoners", constantly reproducing while their offspring are serially exterminated in race after race. Like in Taiwan, some British pigeon races also force pigeons to race across the open sea, and PETA US previously exposed the illegal gambling and terrible conditions pigeons must endure in cross-Channel competitions. The UK's Royal Pigeon Racing Association (RPRA) is promoting the sale of British racing pigeons to Taiwan and mainland China for breeding in order to take advantage of the lucrative market in the Far East as a way of reversing the declining pigeon-racing industry in the UK.

A PETA US investigation into UK pigeon racing found that birds suffer horribly in cross-Channel races in Britain, with some races seeing a 90 per cent death rate. Wherever it's happening, pigeon racing is a blood sport in which animals pay the price for human "entertainment" – while lining the pockets of the unscrupulous gambling industry.

Please e-mail Ian Evans, general manager of the Royal Pigeon Racing Association, and ask him to stop promoting the sale of British pigeons to Taiwan

Royal Pigeon Racing Association

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