Pigeon racing season peaks in India | Asia | An in-depth look at current events from across the continent | DW


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In the city of Chennai, in southern India, the pigeon racing season is at its height. For pigeon fanciers – or amateurs as they are called – this is a very important time of year. The wings of thousands of pigeons are regularly tested, the birds are watered and fed at regular intervals with nutritious meals, and many preparations are made for a race in the skies.

Chennai is home to almost half of India’s 7,000 fanciers, making it the “Mecca of pigeon racing”.

Between January and April, fanciers put their pigeons to participate in races of varying lengths ranging from 200 to 1400 kilometers (120 – 870 miles). The old maximum race length of 1,850 kilometers (1,140 miles) has been removed after animal rights groups expressed concern over the health of the birds.

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As the race for the final category is about to begin, all eyes are on the upcoming event. The winning pigeons will be sought out for breeding and the first pigeon to arrive at his home earns his keeper a prize and the respect of his fellow amateurs.

A close-knit community of pigeon-breeding enthusiasts has broken down many barriers over the past two decades as the sport, a passion for thousands of people in Southeast Asia, has gradually grown from a hobby to a phenomenon cultural.

Carrier pigeons prepare their pigeons with a combination of nutrition and training

Over two dozen clubs have sprung up in recent years, providing platforms for fans to exchange knowledge, updates and compete against each other.

Pigeon racing, also popular in parts of Europe, first appeared in the Indian cities of Kolkata and Bengaluru in the 1940s and 1970s. In Chennai, the sport gained popularity in the 1980s .

The Indian Racing Pigeon Association (IRPA) is the official race organization and is internationally recognized. Several other smaller clubs also run races on their own.

IRPA President Ivan Philips told DW that there has been a steady growth in interest in breeding pigeons for sporting purposes in India over the past decade. The number of pigeon fanciers is increasing by 10-20% every year, he said.

Philips says there are plans to hold races twice a year, split between younger and older birds.

“We have our own Olympic pigeon sport, which takes place every two years,” he said.

“The next one will be in Poland next year. We also have a two-day world congress for pigeon fanciers where we discuss and share the latest developments in the sport of other countries. We decide the future of the sport. pigeon sport in our countries for the next two years at the conference, ”said Philips.

A growing cultural phenomenon

Hobbyists have refined their methods over the years, including making birds’ diets more nutritious, applying superior breeding techniques, and using technology in training.

Once considered a working class pastime, pigeon racing has gradually managed to rise through the social hierarchy in India. People like doctors, lawyers, businessmen, engineers and legislators get involved.

“There was a time in Chennai where pigeon racing was largely associated only with rickshaw drivers and day laborers,” said Philips.

Many amateurs, mostly men, also involve their families in sport and share their passion with those close to them. Many enthusiasts have inherited the sport from previous generations.

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There is little chance of making money with pigeon racing and sport is a labor of love. Even the cash prizes awarded at the races are worth around 5,000 Indian rupees (€ 62), while the monthly expenses of around 100 birds would cost more than that.

Surprisingly, there is no such rampant or foul play as the introduction of bird growth promoters into loosely organized sport, with the exception of a few instances of malpractice.

In comparison, there have been many instances of violation in sports such as horse racing.

One of the major challenges facing pigeon sport fans is the reluctance of the government to formalize the sport, which would favor a regulated system.

A passion for pigeons

Indian Taubensport

The bird of the carrier pigeon Mohanakrishnan won the 2017 cross-country race

Mohanakrishnan, an avid pigeon enthusiast whose bird won the long distance race in 2017, is preparing to send three of his coveted birds on a grueling 1,000 kilometer (600 mile) journey over the next few days. He currently breeds up to 150 pigeons and ends up spending up to 8,000 Indian rupees (€ 100) per month.

Explaining his feeding methods, Mohanakrishnan, an engineer with a unique name, told DW, “I regularly feed all birds corn, peanuts, white corn, varieties of wheat, horse gram, millet, finger millet. Every morning, I also give oil-based foods to strengthen the birds by allowing them to fly longer distances. “

Asked about the birds’ training regimen, he said preparations began shortly after what is known as the “moulting period” – usually between July and September – when pigeons shed their feathers for. news. The first month after moulting is crucial for strengthening the birds’ wings and honing their skills.

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After monitoring flight capabilities, Mohanakrishnan said the carrier pigeons are then made to fly at regular intervals between five and 120 kilometers (three to 75 miles) to increase their capabilities and refine their search skills.

Over a 15 year lifespan, pigeons are their racing peak for four to five years. After that, the best are kept as “reserve birds” to strengthen the genetic makeup of the next generation.

Mohanakrishnan added that an experienced hobbyist could determine if a particular bird is worthy of running by looking at its eyes, wings, body, feathers and legs, but warned there is always a risk of being wrong. .

Birds can also be lost due to several factors both during the training and racing phases – but this risk can be minimized if hobbyists take the necessary precautionary measures, Mohanakrishnan added.

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