Dangerous Avian Flu Outbreak Prompts Call for Suspension of All Pigeon Racing Activities

Birds, Humans at Risk When Lost Pigeons Mingle With Infected Chickens

For Immediate Release:
July 30, 2015

Contact:
Catie Cryar 202-483-7382

Annapolis, Md. – As a strain of highly pathogenic avian influenza (H5) sweeps much of the country, PETA sent letters to various state officials, including one to Maryland Secretary of Agriculture Joseph Bartenfelder in response to his recent order “To Prevent the Spread of Animal Diseases in This State” calling on him to explicitly include the suspension of all pigeon racing activities in the order.

The races—which pit thousands of small birds against the elements and predators—often leave more than 60 percent of the animals lost or dead and could contribute to an already devastating epidemic when exhausted or lost birds land on contaminated farms in search of food and water. As the virus rapidly spreads from one farm to another, the Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service reports that the presence of free-flying birds in poultry houses is a potential mode of transmission. PETA points out that adding to these numbers can only exacerbate the problem. The U.S. Department of Agriculture believes that H5 may strike again in September during fall migration. This would coincide with the young-bird pigeon-racing season, which has the highest rate of lost pigeons. Maryland’s state veterinarian, Dr. Mike Radebaugh, asserts that avian influenza is carried by waterfowl and says, “If we should get [H5] in the industry and it spreads, it could be devastating to the whole entire economy of the state. …[Waterfowl will] be coming down in our area in the fall in the Atlantic flyway, so we’re very concerned.”

“The way to curb the spread of avian flu is to prevent known, major sources of transmission, and that means banning pigeon races during an outbreak,” says PETA President Ingrid Newkirk. “For the health and safety of animals and human beings, these races need to be suspended.”

In 2010, PETA—whose motto reads, in part, that “animals are not ours to abuse in any way”—conducted an investigation of the American Racing Pigeon Union’s annual convention race that revealed that of the slightly more than 1,000 birds who entered the final race from Conway, Arkansas, to Oklahoma City, only 420 made it back by nightfall, leaving hundreds unaccounted for. It may be inevitable that the birds will intermix with waterfowl or one of 22 species of song or perching birds that are confirmed influenza reservoirs in the U.S. And the dangers to pigeons don’t stop there: Birds who return from races but consistently finish out of the money are typically killed by suffocation, drowning, or manual decapitation. One racer told PETA’s investigators that when starting out in pigeon racing, “The first thing you have to learn—how to kill pigeons.”

PETA’s letter to Maryland Secretary of Agriculture Joseph Bartenfelder is available upon request. For more information, please visit PETA.org.

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 Ingrid E. Newkirk

“Almost all of us grew up eating meat, wearing leather, and going to circuses and zoos. We never considered the impact of these actions on the animals involved. For whatever reason, you are now asking the question: Why should animals have rights?” READ MORE

— Ingrid E. Newkirk, PETA President and co-author of Animalkind