Registered with the Registrar of Newspapers for India under R.N.I 53640/91

Vol. XXVII No. 1, April 16-30, 2017

Flights of fancy

walton-peppinWalton Peppin

Pigeon fancier Walton Peppin takes his pigeon racing very seriously. In fact, Walton and his wife Janet relocated home to accommodate their pigeons.

Walton says, “I love my birds, the birds come first. When it comes to racing, I really like to win and do everything to ensure a win.”

And win he does. His lounge is filled with over a hundred trophies proudly displayed. Walton also has a pile of certificates.

I asked Walton if he had a particular favourite cup. He said, “I have 2 cups of which I am very proud. If you win an event three consecutive times, you get to keep the cup.”

Walton takes great pride in all his birds; however, he does have some favourites. Walton told me a story about one particular pigeon:

“One of my prized birds failed to return home after a race. We waited for days but still it did not return, so I gave up hope of seeing it again. Then, one day, four and a half months later, it flew home, minus one leg. We were very happy. Who knows what this bird went through to make back to us!”

His interest in pigeons started when he was five years old and he attributes this early start to his father William Peppin who was a pigeon enthusiast himself. Walton started racing pigeons in 1989; his first pigeon was bought for Rs. 50 only. He is a long-time member of the All Madras Homer Club that has 55 members; this club holds regular racing events. There are 13 clubs in Madras and competition is fierce. For some races the birds are caged and transported up to 1,350 kilometre from Madras before being released to race home.

Walton says, “I have had between 70 and 150 birds; they are kept in three lofts on the terrace of my house.”
It takes great effort, care and attention to keep the birds in tip-top condition. Walton says, “We feed them the best grain we can buy, the lofts are cleaned twice a day and washed out with caustic soda every Saturday. The birds are also given exercise and training.” No wonder Walton and Janet’s pigeons are winners! – Courtesy: Anglos in the Wind.
A special correspondent adds: Pigeon racing in Madras/Chennai has a long history. In 1976, the Madras Homing Pigeon Association was formed. The very next year, the North Madras Homing Pigeon Association was founded. Unfortunately, these two organisations did not survive long. Then, there was a long lull.

In 1981, A. Baldrey, a pigeon fancier, imported two breeds of racing pigeons from the United States – Paulsion and Stassert (named after the men who bred these racers). In 1983, J. Dias shipped in seven pairs of the Sodenberg racing pigeons from the U.S. Some time later, Baldrey left Madras to settle in Coimbatore and Dias left the city to put down roots in Pondicherry. However, they left behind an invaluable treasure for pigeon fanciers (as they describe themselves) in the city. By introducing these birds in the city, the two men gave pigeon racing a new lease of life.
In 1984, the New Madras Racing Pigeon Association was born. Slowly, more and more pigeon fanciers got into the act, and four more clubs saw the light of day. Unlike the ones in the 1970s, these clubs have stood the test of time. Today, Chennai has about 200 pigeon fanciers, each of whom has no less than 75 homing pigeons in his loft.

Homing pigeons (or racing pigeons) are equipped by breeding and training to fly home, often from great distances. They have an irrepressible and uncanny instinct to come back to their lofts.

Pigeon fanciers in Chennai are not content with the birds they have. Some are bringing in more breeds. Rajasekharan of Royapuram has imported a few more foreign breeds. Prasad, president, Central Madras Homer Club, imports eggs of long-distance racing birds and has them incubated here. Dr. Noel Kannan of Kottivakkam, who has returned after a stint as a dental surgeon in Dammam, Saudi Arabia, boasts of 250 birds in his lofts. The cream of this crop is the world-renowned Belgium Silvere Toye pigeons. He bought five pairs of them in 1992. “Belgium is the Mecca of pigeon racing. It has over three lakh pigeon fanciers,” says Kannan.

A South Indian Pigeon Society was started in Chennai in 2009, mainly to unite all the pigeon fanciers under a single banner and to further improve the sport of pigeon racing in India.

“In Chennai, the racing season starts in January and usually ends in April or May. During these races, the birds are released from places such as Kavali, Kasipet, Sirpur and Nagpur. During January and February, the wind is favourable. But in March, they are confronted with side wind. They contend with the worst during April, when they fly against the wind. More often than not, it is in April that they compete in the longest race – 925 km from Nagpur to Chennai. Such a wind can disorient them and they lose direction. Due to disturbances from birds of prey, these pigeons sometimes shoot off in a wrong direction. Some such pigeons return after many days. Some others never.”

Sometimes, out of the 500 birds released during races, only 50 return on time. Some of the ‘lost’ birds return after three or four months. Some are known to have returned after three or four years.

Then there is a problem of medicine. “A pigeon’s illness is often infectious. When such an illness hits a loft, they (pigeons) drop like flies. The disease called Ronycot is a case in point. We do not have vaccines against many such killer diseases. We have to import them,” says Ravi, president, Chennai Homing Pigeon Fanciers’ Club.

“To most veterinarians here, a pigeon is an unknown quantity. They do not seem to be equipped with the knowledge to treat pigeons. They just tell us, ‘Nip the problem in the bud by killing the diseased bird.’ We expect more from them than such an advice,” says Balaji, a pigeon fancier.

Another problem is the cost of maintaining a loft with, say, a hundred pigeons. The feeding expenses alone take quite a bite out of a fancier’s resources. Building a good loft can often break the bank. Many fanciers have spent a fortune on their lofts, drawing protests from family members.

Despite these problems, they continue to pursue the hobby because they have an obsessive attachment to their pigeons and a desire to see them win.

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