Is the Queen of the United Kingdom and the other Commonwealth realms implicated in animal cruelty because of her involvement in pigeon racing? The Queen has been sending birds to the South African Million Dollar Pigeon Race for about 20 years. The pigeons are kept at Sandringham. The race is the sport’s biggest competition. It must be because the fee per bird is £900. And astonishingly about 5,000 birds take part. You do the maths but the organisers take an awful lot of money.
As it happens the Queen’s does not pay a fee because it is waived for her and she donates any winnings to charity. However, all eight of her birds sent in a crate died in quarantine. In addition, the number of pigeons lost during the most recent series which finished in February was particularly high this time with more than 1,000 birds dying in quarantine in South Africa from a virus. Further, only 800 of the birds taking part in the race of which there were 4,000 returned home.
The People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA) carried out an undercover investigation into the event. They made a video which showed a bird arriving back at their loft in South Africa too exhausted to walk. They also say that some birds are culled at the end of races because their performance is not good enough. And sending birds from around the world to a single building (loft) in South Africa is a recipe for spreading disease. A particularly sensitive issue at the present time.
South Africa’s National Council of Societies for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals said they saw “consistently alarming statistics” with respect to the race.
Alarmingly, during the 2020 season 80% of the pigeons disappeared. It takes place during a very hot season in South Africa. Perhaps some birds die of heat exhaustion, others are killed by hawk attacks and some get lost. As for the Queen, only five of the 40 birds that she has sent to the race over the past six years have survived. That is according to PETA’s analysis of race records. The Queen is patron of the Royal Pigeon Racing Association. She takes a keen interest in the 200 birds at Sandringham.
In defence, Michael Holt, the race director denied that the race was cruel. The pigeons do it voluntarily unlike horseracing where jockeys sit on the backs of horses forcing them to race. The pigeons love the loft and are well looked after. The event did not cull pigeons and the bird that could not walk perhaps suffered from temporary leg cramps.
The birds do not pose a health risk to other local populations because they spend time in quarantine. As for the high temperatures, it is 5°C cooler at the height that pigeons fly at.
Comment: it seems to me that what has happened is that people are questioning whether pigeon racing is cruel per se. Perhaps it isn’t but having a race thousands of miles away in South Africa when the pigeons live in England presents added issues of animal welfare. The fact that all of the bird at Sandringham died in quarantine indicates a failure in my opinion. And ultimately pigeon racing is using birds for our entertainment. Purists find that unacceptable.
The birds are trained to return to their home loft when released at a distance. A starter records the time of their release and each pigeon is identified by a ring on their legs. When they reach their home loft the trainer removes the ring, puts it in a timing device which records the time of arrival. An average speed is measured and the fastest pigeon wins. Electronic chips are being used nowadays which means that the trainer does not have to be at the loft to record the winner.