We all know that pigeons are intelligent pets, messengers and war heroes. But how many of us know that the bird is a good racer? In ancient days, due to their homing instinct, pigeon races were conducted. Even today, it is a popular sport in Belgium and other European countries. In Asia, the game receives a great deal of appreciation in China, Japan, and Thailand.
K. Palaniappan, president, New Madras Racing Pigeon Association, says that though the sport is not very popular in India, a small group of people, especially pigeon breeders, are acquainted with the sport. He says that Tamil Nadu has approximately 40 racing pigeon forums, of which Chennai has 10. In other States, the number does not exceed even five. Calcutta and Bangalore has two each.
Mr. Palaniappan says that the State should declare pigeon race as a traditional sport such as cock-fight, bull-fight, and horse race. In this game, trained pigeons, particularly the Racing Homers breed (for which the homing instinct is high), are released from a point and are expected to return to their lofts within the stipulated time.
The bird which is bred for the race is tagged with a permanent ring bearing a four-digit number around its legs. It will have details such as year of birth, sex, species, the society with which it has been registered and it's registered breeder. The racing pigeons are usually checkers, blues, red checkers, and blues with white flight.
In India, still the traditional method of recording the time of a racing bird is followed. The method is that an inner ring number and outer ring number is attached to the leg of the bird on the day of the sport.
The inner ring number is not known to the breeder of the bird at the time of its release for the race. When the bird reaches its loft, the breeder gets to know the inner ring number and conveys the number over phone to the society. The bird that arrives first into its loft or has taken the minimum time is declared as the winner.
To be accurate, velocity per minute is calculated. This minimises the small variations in distance (in air route) from a single starting point to different loft points.
But other countries have adopted the advanced Radio Frequency Identification Method or Radio Collaring to record time. In this method, an electronic chip is attached to the bird and a corresponding electronic clock with antennas which registers time is kept at the loft point. The registered time is indicated through a master clock at the club's point.
“We are planning to buy a clock manufactured by Benzing, Southern Germany. The clock for a breeder's purpose costs Rs. 20,000 and the master clock, which has a capacity to manage the timing of 1,000 birds at a time, for the use of the club, is Rs. 50,000. Not every breeder can afford this amount,” says Mr. Palaniappan.
He pointed out that the electronic chips are manufactured by a firm at Madras Export Processing Zone, Tambaram, and they are being exported to Belgium where the software would be inserted. “If we need to buy those chips, we have to import the same from Belgium.” he adds.
Mr. Palaniappan says that it is believed that pigeons are able to fly back to their homes through their ability to sense direction, magnetic field of the earth, and smell. So, various factors are considered before deciding on the place to release the birds for the race.
As a strong odour emanates from Eucalyptus trees, a place where there is a good density of the tree is avoided. Next, a natural disaster such as earthquake, cyclone, or any other should not have hit the place and a rocket should not have been launched in the recent past, as there might be disturbances in magnetic field of the earth. Also, a coastal area is avoided.
“As many people are not aware of the sport, we encounter with problems. When we take the birds in boxes (each box containing 20 pigeons) for the race, we are questioned by many Government authorities who mistake that the birds are being taken for some illegal activity. Hence, we have obtained the necessary ‘no objection certificates' from the departments concerned and produce them as and when required.”
The society has been permitted by the Principal Chief Conservator of Forests and Chief Wildlife Warden, the Commissioner of Police, and the Southern Railways to take the birds to other States. An amount of Rs.100 for each bird, which weighs around 24 grams, is being paid to carry them in train. “The same amount is collected for a dog. In such aspects we expect the Government to offer us concession,” he adds.
A pigeon's life span is 15 years. From six months to six years, the bird is fit for the race, of which the peak period is from four to five years. Up to 50 Km (in air route) the training is given by the breeder and above that the training will be given by the club.
For short distance race (200 to 300 km), the birds are released from Kavali and Vinukonda of Andhra Pradesh. They are expected to return within four hours. For medium distance (400 to 500 Km), the race begins from Miryalaguda and Warangal of Andhra Pradesh. The stipulated time is seven to nine hours. For the long distance race (750 to 1,750 km), the following places are considered — Karimnagar in Andhra Pradesh; Chandrapur and Nagpur in Maharashtra; Bhopal and Gwalior in Madhya Pradesh. The duration given is two to seven days.
Mr. Palaniappan says that the target of their club is to release the birds from Delhi to Chennai, which is approximately 1,750 km. So far, the forum has achieved the 1,500-km slot, (from Gwalior to Chennai).
The sport is usually conducted during January because of the normal wind pattern. Mr. Palaniappan says that proper medicines are not available here, in case the birds fall sick. “We usually administer the medicines meant for hens by reducing the dosage. Whereas, other countries have tonics for racer pigeons and different packages of feeds meant for racing, breeding, mating. Above all, they are offered at a subsidised cost.”