The Queen was urged to sever ties with bird races around the world after it emerged the eight pigeons sent to take part in the South African Million Dollar Pigeon Race (SAMDPR) died. The birds were flown from the royal loft in Sandringham, where the monarch’s racing pigeons are bred, to South Africa to take part in the biggest race of the year, dubbed the Olympics of pigeon racing.
However, none of them survived the quarantine period spent in crates.
According to animal rights organisation PETA, the quarantine period puts the birds at risk of transmitting diseases, including zoonotic ones, to one another as they are all grouped together for 30 days.
Following an undercover investigation into the event, the organisation also claimed that only five of the 42 pigeons the Queen sent to South Africa in the last six years survived.
Out of the total of 373 pigeons sent to South Africa from all around the globe this year, only 44 survived, the activists claimed.
Some poorly performing birds are culled at the end of the races, PETA said, while others returned to the loft too tired to walk.
PETA Director Elisa Allen said: “Exploiting the extraordinary homing abilities of pigeons in this cruel manner so as to win a prize purse is extraordinarily callous.
“PETA most respectfully urges the Queen to remove the royal loft birds from these deadly races and turn her Sandringham pigeon breeding mill into a sanctuary.”
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South Africa’s National Council of Societies for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals said it saw “consistently alarming statistics” about the race.
Arno De Klerk, manager of the society’s special projects unit, outlined the conditions in which the pigeons likely found themselves ahead of the SAMDPR.
He said: “During the 2020 season, 80 percent of pigeons disappeared.
“This race takes place in one of the hottest months of the year.
“One can only imagine the suffering these birds endure.”
Race organisers have denied any accusations of animal cruelty.
The UK’s race co-ordinator who sent the Queen’s birds to South Africa, Paul Smith, had previously confirmed the pigeons had died.
Mr Smith then admitted some birds died from dehydration or starvation during races, while others were killed by predators.
He said: “Some obviously die. Some get eaten by hawks.
“Some might come back months later.”
When asked if birds were culled, he replied: “I don’t think pigeon fanciers kill many pigeons.
“I suppose some do.”
Race director Michael Holt also defended the event, denying the pigeons pose a risk to native populations due to the fact that they are put in quarantine.
He also denied pigeons in South Africa race in extreme heat, saying the temperature they flew in would be up to 5C cooler than on the ground.
He said: “The pigeons have no jockey sitting on their back to force them to fly home.
“They must do this of their own free will and love of the loft [which] we take a great deal of effort to foster.”
Mr Holt also said the event did not cull any pigeons and suggested that the bird unable to walk were suffering temporarily from leg cramps.
He added that “very few pigeons” have been reported to him as found dead during his time as director.
He said: “Every pigeon lost is a loss of revenue for the race, the entrants and the pigeon community.”
Buckingham Palace told Express.co.uk: “Sandringham Estate has operated a pigeon loft for almost 150 years, and adheres to all standards and regulations required.”
The Queen has been sending birds to race at the SAMDPR for around 20 years and is said to take a keen interest in the 200 birds bred at Sandringham.