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PETA US Reveals First-Ever Investigation Into Secret World Of UK Pigeon Racing

For Immediate Release:

27 March 2013

Contact:
Ben Williamson +44 (0) 20 7837 6327, ext 229; BenW@peta.org.uk

London – Undercover video footage exposing the disappearance and presumed deaths of tens of thousands of pigeons in cross-Channel races was released today by People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA) US. The secretly shot video reveals widespread and alleged illegal activity and documents a race in which more than 90 per cent of the pigeons did not return and were believed to have died. PETA US is calling on authorities to prosecute those responsible for the massive losses and casualties of birds during races and the cruel culling (ie, killing) of birds – never previously documented on film.

Recorded conversations with presidents of top British pigeon-racing organisations and an analysis of more than a decade's worth of publicly available statistics show that, on average, three-quarters of all birds forced to fly the gruelling journey across the Channel – which can be 150 miles wide at points and is often reached by the birds only after they have already flown hundreds of miles – go missing, almost all presumed to have died after becoming exhausted, being attacked by predators, hitting electrical wires or crashing into the sea. Many birds who do return but fall out of the money have their necks clumsily wrung in order to make way for younger birds. Pigeons can live approximately 20 years, but in pigeon racing, most birds do not survive their first year, and only a tiny percentage will make it to four years of age because of race deaths and manual "culling".

"When someone thinks of pigeon racing, an image of kindly older men with garden sheds may spring to mind, but what is revealed here is a culture of unremitting and deliberate cruelty to birds", says PETA Foundation UK Associate Director Mimi Bekhechi. "Like other forms of animal exploitation, pigeon racing is driven by money, and greed is sending millions of birds crashing into an early grave."

Her Royal Highness Queen Elizabeth is patron of the Royal Pigeon Racing Association and maintains a loft of approximately 250 birds at Sandringham Estate. PETA US' investigation and review of racing statistics shows that every one of the birds from the Queen's loft entered into one race filmed by PETA US investigators went missing.

Pigeons serving with the Royal Air Force during World War II were the first recipients of the Dickin Medal – the animals' Victoria Cross – for delivering messages that led to the rescue of British airmen. Yet for nothing more than a bet, pigeon racers today will separate birds from their mates (a cruel practice known as "widowhood") and their young so that they will fly faster. Some racers place plastic eggs beneath hens before races, with live worms or live flies inside, to trick them into thinking that they have babies waiting for them back at the loft.

PETA US has sent formal complaints to Defra as well as the Royal Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals urging them to launch investigations. In addition, PETA UK has sent a letter to Her Majesty The Queen asking her to review her involvement in this deadly "sport". Broadcast-quality video footage is available here. For more information, please visit PETA.org.uk.