End pigeon races that ‘abuse’ birds, NPP leader says

Chen Jiau-hua and conservationists said high-stakes races that involve gambling and lead to the death of many birds must be treated as crimes

  • By Yang Cheng-yu / Staff reporter

New Power Party (NPP) Chairwoman Chen Jiau-hua (陳椒華) and conservationists on Thursday condemned pigeon racing, citing a high death rate of birds during the events.

Chen urged the government to look into “abuses” of race pigeons, saying that offshore events had a death rate of more than 98 percent, with large numbers of dead birds found in the water after such races.

A documentary film produced by US group People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals in 2013 and 2014 showed Taiwanese ships releasing pigeons 320km away from the nearest shore, from where the orientation-savvy birds had to fly back home, Chen said.

Photo courtesy of the office of Chen Jiau-hua

Without a chance to rest, most of the birds drowned, she said.

The birds that made it to the shore were barely alive and traumatized, and had sustained serious injuries, Chen said.

“Taiwan has the world’s highest death rate during pigeon racing events,” she said.

“Do we want to continue to hold this record? Why does Taiwan permit these events at sea?” she asked, urging the government to enforce animal protection laws.

Chen said that the seven largest offshore races held annually in Taiwan on average feature 50,000 pigeons, of which less than 2 percent survive the events.

“One race in 2020 had more than 60,000 entries, of which only three pigeons returned safety,” she said. “It was a very cruel competition.”

The Council of Agriculture (COA) should draft an amendment to the Animal Protection Act (動物保護法), which only stipulates administrative penalties, but no criminal charges.

Taiwan Animal Protection Monitor Network secretary-general Ho Tsung-hsun (何宗勳) said that even though “Taiwan’s offshore pigeon racing is notorious for its cruelty, the government has taken no action for many years.”

An event in winter last year included two qualifying rounds and five round-robin rounds, and of the 45,696 entries, only 722 pigeons finished the race, he said.

“Only 1.58 percent of the participating birds returned safely. All others drowned or died of other causes. Such cruelty has gone on for many years,” he said.

Such events often have a total price money of more than NT$100 million (US$3.36 million), including about NT$10 million for the winner, Ho said.

Winning birds are appraised at NT$100,000 to more than NT$1 million, Ho added.

“With such high stakes and gambling involved, there have been many disputes,” he said, adding that some of them led to criminal prosecution.

However, the Animal Protection Act only allows for the imposition of fines, and prosecutors cannot press criminal charges on its basis, he said.

The government should regulate pigeon racing events to reduce the risk of death and injury for participating birds, Ho said.

Animal Protection Office Director Sung Nien-chieh (宋念潔) said that the COA would work with the National Police Agency and the Ministry of Justice to assess whether any laws should be amended.

Article 10 of the Animal Protection Act prohibits competitions involving gambling, Sung said.

Additional reporting by Jason Pan

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