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In the News - Pigeon Racing heads for Israel...
Author: Haaretz.comTitle: In the News - Pigeon Racing heads for Israel
Date: 2005-01-20 08:29:53Uploaded by: webmaster
Romeo averages 65.8 kph, which recently made him Israel's champion in a carrier pigeon race. Ten breeders and 40 pigeons took part in Israel's first official pigeon race earlier this month. The rules were simple: The pigeons were released together from the Hermon area, each bearing a secret code attached to its leg. Breeders sat at home waiting. When their pigeon arrived, they gave the code to the race manager and stopped the clock. The winner was the pigeon that flew home at the fastest speed. Romeo lives in Uri Alon's dovecote on Moshav Talmei Yosef in the western Negev. He had to cover the greatest distance, 263 kilometers as the crow flies, and made it four hours faster than a car leaving the Hermon at the same time would have.

"The end was very nerve-racking," Alon said. "All the other pigeons had arrived, one in Haifa, another in Tel Aviv, only mine was still en route. We sat in the garden and looked at the sky. Suddenly we saw her flying straight for the dovecote. It was amazing."

Pigeon races are a fairly popular sport in Europe and the United States, with thousands of breeders racing their pigeons, and many gamblers betting on them. European champions can reach speeds of 90 kph and more.

Israeli carrier pigeons are descendents of Belgian pigeons that were brought here 30 years ago. Efforts are now under way to mate pigeons with good genes to create a new racing generation.

The recent race was organized by the amateur carrier pigeon club, established four months ago by 10 breeders. Carrier pigeons have a long and glorious history in Israel. The Nili underground organization, which spied for the British against the Turks, was captured after Turkish intelligence got ahold of a pigeon. Pigeons also played an important role in the Haganah's communications corps and were used in War of Independence battles. Pigeons remained on active duty after the Israel Defense Forces was founded until Moshe Dayan dismantled the pigeon corps in the 1950s. Some old-timers are even among the new club's members.

Alon follows a book on pigeon breeding translated in 1941 from a French army guide book. "You begin training them when they're a month old, at first to recognize the yard and then the immediate neighborhood, and gradually they move farther away." But with all due respect for training, what really counts is genes. "We tried taking pigeons from the cowshed that look the same. When we got farther than 15 kilometers, they no longer returned," Alon said.

Club members hope that more people will take up the hobby. "It's like horse racing for commoners. You don't have to be rich to do this," Alon said.

The club also hopes to increase race distances. "We've done Israel. We hope we'll be able to hold races from Jordan, on the border with Iraq, to the dovecote in Israel."

Meanwhile, the next race is slated to take place in March from Rosh Hanikra.

Haaretz - haaretz.com - Thur, 20 January, 2005

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