Cubans turn to pigeon breeding to escape COVID-19

From a building facing Havana’s iconic Malecon waterfront, pigeon keepers emerge from a window, intently watching the gray birds take flight.

Remaining mostly indoors due to the country’s worst COVID-19 outbreak since the coronavirus pandemic began in March last year, Cubans are increasingly raising pigeons as a form of escape.

“You can’t leave the house,” said Pedro Marrero, president of the Seductive Pigeon Promotion Club, a group of people who love birds and raise them as a hobby.

“We are locked inside. Everything is restricted and we have only one place to escape, which is the roof. We go up on the roof, we have our animals and we have a good time there, ”he said.

Marrero, 53, says it relaxes him from catching and training pigeons on his Havana rooftop, where he can disconnect from the stress of the pandemic and enjoy the graceful flight of his birds.

Pigeon fancier Freddy Moreno plays with pigeons on his balcony in Havana, Cuba. (Photo: REUTERS / Alexandre Meneghini)

The new Animal Welfare Act states that there are no limits to the breeding of birds “as long as the hygiene, health and welfare requirements required by the species. are respected ”, according to the Cuban Ministry of Agriculture.

Pigeons are also sold in the market and used in Santeria ceremonies. Priests of the ritualistic Afro-Cuban religion say that pigeons are in great demand among their customers.

Despite health and safety restrictions, Cuba has seen an increase in COVID-19 cases as the government opened its borders. So far in May, 29,006 people have reportedly been infected with COVID-19 with a daily average of 1,160 hospital admissions and 258 deaths, up from 229 deaths in April, according to official figures.

On the rooftops, pigeon breeders are delighted to watch the animals compete in the air to capture their prey.

“Watching your pigeon compete with other pigeons in the neighborhood, so that it can bring the prey to your home… is the greatest experience a loft can have,” said Leonisbel Santana, 35.

Still others simply have an affinity with cooing birds.

“I feel love for them,” said Yosbany de La Rosa, also 35.

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