The pigeon race takes off in Senegal

Moustapha Gueye, 40, poses for a portrait with his carrier pigeons in Dakar on October 01, 2020. – AFP Photo

Oumar Johnson bends down to enter his cramped dovecote, built atop an urban building, and snatches his favorite pigeon from dozens of birds fluttering and cooing around him.

“This pigeon is called Super King,” he said proudly holding the animal up in the air.

The purebred bird is Senegal’s most expensive pigeon, which Johnson bought at auction to give the country’s burgeoning pigeon scene a competitive edge.

The 30-year-old scientist is one of a small but growing number of Senegalese men who have fallen under the spell of breeding and racing, some to the point of obsession.

Super King costs the equivalent of around 650 euros ($ 813), a steep price in a country where the minimum wage is around 90 euros per month.

“We have a kind of addiction to this animal, the carrier pigeon,” explains Johnson, the president of the Senegalese federation of pigeon fanciers. “It’s a different way of life.

Long established in countries such as Belgium, France and China, pigeon racing has only taken off in Senegal in the last decade, after ornamental bird breeders stumbled upon it. online sports, according to Johnson.

The West African nation now has some 350 enthusiasts, many of whom ignore protests from family and loved ones and devote most of their free time and large sums to their pigeons.

Most, like Johnson, keep their lovingly cared for birds in wooden dovecotes on the rooftops of dense urban areas.

From his roof in a suburb of the capital Dakar, Moustapha Gueye, a 40-year-old trader, releases dozens of pigeons from their acrid-smelling dovecote. They rush through the air and are quickly out of sight.

“They are athletes, so they have to train,” he said, explaining that the pursuit takes both time and brainpower.

Not only does he feed and train the pigeons every morning, but he also takes care of veterinary care and develops cross breeds suitable for flying in hot weather.

“It’s something that cannot be explained,” said Gueye with a smile, describing his feelings when his pigeons come back after a long race.

Senegal’s racing season, with national competitions, began in November after the rains ended.

At the end of October, dozens of men, mostly young people, brought crates of homers to a rooftop in the suburbs of Dakar to register them for a pre-season test race – one of many who took part. took place this weekend.

The volunteers recorded and tagged the birds in a lively atmosphere, joking and chatting until well after midnight.

Then so-called couriers drove the marked pigeons to the town of Diourbel, about 160 kilometers (100 miles) east of Dakar, to be released early the next morning.

“It’s like a drug,” says Johnson, who attended the pre-race entry, explaining the appeal of the sport.

The next day, race participant Mamadou Diallo stands on his roof in Dakar with several friends, scanning the crystal blue sky in search of his pigeons.

The 33-year-old electrical engineer, a self-proclaimed pigeon fanatic, paces in the wait.

Suddenly, a cry rises. Pigeons on the horizon. An excited Diallo walks around the roof, whistling and shaking a plastic bottle to lure the pigeons into their dovecote.

He carefully notes their arrival times, which the race organizers will later compare with other pigeons that have raced from Diourbel.

Subsequently, a more relaxed Diallo describes pigeons as his passion, but jokes that his wife berates him for wasting his time. In addition to professional and family obligations, he worries about the well-being of his animals.

“This is normal because … I put them in a cage, I am responsible for them.”

Senegalese pigeon fanciers want to awaken others and some hope to eventually become professionals.

It has already grown. About fifteen people practiced this sport in 2010, according to Diallo, against more than 300 today. Adolescents are also increasingly interested.

“It is my one and only dream to bring pigeon racing to the rooftops,” says Diallo, adding that he wants his children to get involved as well.

However, he fears that the time and cost of breeding pigeons will distract young people from their studies.

Johnson, the chairman of the pigeon fanciers, shares his concerns, noting that some people take their dedication too far.

“When you are too busy with the pigeons things can go wrong,” he says, adding that the federation envisions less time-consuming races for the youngsters.

Young people are the future of sport nonetheless, Johnson said, adding that their dedication will one day make Senegal “one of the greatest pigeon nations”.

“In Europe, we have to motivate young people to get involved,” he says. “Here, young people rush there.

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