A PETA US undercover investigation into the largest pigeon racing organisations in the UK has revealed massive losses and casualties of birds during races, unregulated release of birds from international locations and millions of pounds in wagers illegally accepted by unlicensed pigeon-racing associations.
The two-month-long investigation into cross-Channel pigeon racing recorded British races in which birds were released in the Channel Islands, France and Spain and forced to fly up to 900 miles as part of a gruelling and hazardous journey. The investigation revealed the loss and presumed deaths of hundreds of thousands of birds – in one race, more than 90 per cent of the pigeons did not return. Many of the survivors who struggle against the odds to return to their lofts but are not deemed valuable enough for future races or breeding are often killed by being gassed with car exhaust, being drowned or having their necks broken, as filmed by PETA US investigators.
There are more than 40,000 pigeon racers in the UK, and they raise an estimated 2 million birds annually. Her Majesty The Queen maintains a loft at Sandringham Estate with nearly 250 pigeons, the majority of whom are used for racing. On September 1, 2012, PETA US investigators documented the release of the National Flying Club's premiere race starting in Fougères, France – including birds from The Queen's loft, not one of whom survived the arduous journey back across the Channel.
The Channel crossing is one of the major dangers facing pigeons released outside the UK for British races. They face treacherous and unpredictable weather over the Channel, and they can't see any land to use as a reference point. The birds fly close to the water to avoid the winds and can be swept under by the waves. The exhausted pigeons have nowhere to land, and touching down on the water means almost certain death. In the most infamous race for British pigeons, the Barcelona International, the birds must fly anywhere from 650 to 900 miles back to their home lofts in the UK. John Tyerman, president of the British International Championship Club, wrote, "[T]he Channel is a dreadful last hurdle for tired pigeons having to face 100 plus miles of open sea, when nearly home after 600 plus miles."
The casualty rate over the Channel is so high that many racers refer to it as the "graveyard".
Prior to being released for a race, pigeons are crammed into cages that hold up to 20 birds and trucked with thousands of other birds for up to seven days. They are often released with tens of thousands of other birds from throughout Europe, with whom they may exchange viruses and infections while trying to make their way back home. The few birds who do manage to survive and return to the UK may have been exposed to diseases such as avian flu on foreign soil, putting human and animal populations at risk.
Pigeons, also known as "rock doves", are intelligent, gentle, loyal birds. They have honourably served the military, delivering vital messages in the most dangerous conditions. This has earned them the most Dickin Medals – the animals' Victoria Cross – of any species. Abusing these noble animals just for amusement or a wager is cruel.
PETA US has sent formal complaints to Defra and the Gambling Commission and is urging the RSPCA to launch investigations and take action to stop these cruel races. PETA UK has also sent a letter to Her Majesty The Queen asking her to review her involvement in this inhumane blood "sport".
You can help! Please contact Defra Minister Michael Gove and ask that he take action to prevent more pigeons from suffering in cross-Channel races.