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2019 update: In October, a judge in Taichung upheld guilty verdicts for two Fengyuan Pigeon Club officers and 184 pigeon racers. The club president was sentenced to one year in prison and fined over $200,000, the accountant was sentenced to nine months in prison and fined over $6,000, and the participants received fines. Combined with the Zhong Zheng Club and Xiangshun prosecutions, this raises the total number of people charged to 239—the most who have ever faced prosecution as a result of a PETA investigation.
2017 update: The Zhong Zheng Club of Kaohsiung, Taiwan, reported only 147 survivors out of the 12,423 pigeons who started the recent 2017 summer and fall series.
Taiwanese Airport Bans PETA's Anti–Pigeon Racing Billboard
Taiwan Taoyuan International Airport in Taipei has rejected a controversial new PETA billboard, which points out that pigeon races held there have a 98 percent fatality rate. The birds, who are released over treacherous open oceans and have to fly hundreds of miles to reach land, are often swept underwater by waves and drown, or fall victim to extreme weather, raptors, electric lines, foul play, disorientation, or exhaustion—or, if they return but finish out of the money, their necks are typically broken.
2015 Taiwan Raid: Police Bust Pigeon Racers
There has been huge progress in stopping the races. Following PETA's groundbreaking exposé and in response to a detailed complaint submitted to authorities, Taiwanese police raided at least three pigeon-racing clubs across the island, including the largest. Officials charged the president, secretary, and bookkeeper of the Kaohsiung Zhong Zheng pigeon-racing club, along with 32 alleged pigeon racers, and applied for the confiscation of nearly $570,000 in illegal gambling funds. In 2015, the Taichung District Prosecutors Office charged 129 pigeon racers, including the president of the Fengyuan Pigeon Club, with gambling offenses and seized more than $2 million. But more still needs to be done to stop these pigeon races.
Watch the Video of PETA’s Undercover Investigation
More than a million homing pigeons die every year during Taiwan's seasonal pigeon races, which consist of sets of seven grueling races over open ocean from ever-increasing distances. Young birds who aren't even a year old are shipped out to sea, released in the middle of the ocean, and forced to fly back home—even in the midst of typhoon-strength winds. Most often, fewer than 1 percent of these highly intelligent birds complete each seven-race series. Many drown from exhaustion, die in the storms, or are killed afterward for being too slow.
PETA investigators went undercover at the largest pigeon-racing club in southern Taiwan from June to October 2013. They infiltrated this secretive industry, obtaining access to racing lofts, to "shipping night" (when the birds are registered and put in cargo crates), and even to a ship from which the pigeons were released. Investigators recorded officials and participants as they admitted to the millions of dollars in illegal bets and the massive losses of birds in this ruthless "sport."
Click here to see more pigeon-racing images.
Top racers and high-ranking club officials admitted to deadly conditions for the birds, who fly with untreated injuries, without enough rest between races, and through heavy rainstorms. PETA investigators captured video of a race in which tens of thousands of birds disappeared in a matter of hours and were presumed to have drowned. Even birds who survive these extreme conditions may be killed or discarded by their owners if they don't make the qualifying time for the next race in the series. Pigeons are smart, gentle, and loyal birds. They bond for life and can live longer than 20 years. Yet almost all the birds who begin their lives as racing pigeons in Taiwan perish in their first year of life.
"It was raining pigeons—literally. I've never seen such a scene. Every one of them crashed onto the boat. … Some crashed into the ocean. … About one hour after the pigeon rain, you could see the whole surface of the ocean filled with dead pigeons."
—Taiwanese fishing boat captain
Money—not just entry fees, but vast illegal wagers—fuels the multibillion-dollar pigeon-racing industry in Taiwan. Wealthy racers pay upwards of $100,000 for imported breeder birds, and top flyers admitted to making millions on a single race. "Prizes" such as refrigerators are listed on gambling sheets as a cover for the cash bets that are the main draw for these events. Racers boasted that government law enforcement "can't catch us." The chance to win staggering sums leads to extortion, drugging of birds, the kidnapping of birds for ransom, and the use of rigorous anti-cheating systems that involve RFID tags, multiple stamps on birds' wings for identity, covering their leg ring numbers, and meticulously comparing photographs of the birds' feathers.
An international web of commerce supports Taiwanese pigeon racing: Breeder birds are bought and sold for tens of thousands of dollars from U.S. and international dealers, then kept as "prisoners," constantly reproducing while their offspring are serially exterminated in race after race. As a result of a previous PETA eyewitness investigation, a prominent U.S. racer and breeder who was involved in selling birds to Taiwan—along with the executive director of the American Racing Pigeon Union, the largest pigeon-racing organization in the U.S.—pleaded no contest to charges of commercial gambling. This was the first time in history that anyone has been held responsible for illegal conduct associated with cruel pigeon races. Millions of dollars fly in this business, but the pigeons always lose.
You can protest the cruel use of pigeons for gambling by urging Chen Chi Chung, Minister of the Council of Agriculture, to prosecute any violation of Taiwan's Animal Protection Act in deadly ocean pigeon races.