Animal rights activists have called on the Queen to drop her lifelong support for pigeon racing, accusing the sport of “a culture of... deliberate cruelty to birds”.
According to an undercover investigation by Peta (People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals), an average of 75 per cent of the birds taking part in cross-Channel races never make it home. For one race last year, from Fougères in Brittany, the loss rate was nearly 90 per cent, it said.
Peta investigators claimed that, of the four pigeons from the Queen’s loft at Sandringham entered for the race, none returned. The organisation claimed she had lost an estimated 100 birds over the last decade.
The royals declined to comment, but pigeon fanciers quoted in The (paywalled) Times said that the figures did not take into account the birds that returned home several days after the end of a race.
A brilliant article by the war historian and writer Ben McIntyre on the historic bond between man and pigeon ("The pigeon was the first domesticated bird. Only dogs and horses have worked more closely with humanity. A papyrus from the reign of Pharaoh Merenre (c2280BC) describes keeping pigeons" ) also in The Times, dismissed Peta's figures as a 'wild exaggeration'.
Peta Foundation UK associate director Mimi Bekhechi said: “When someone thinks of pigeon racing, an image of kindly old men with garden sheds may spring to mind, but what is revealed here is a culture of unremitting and deliberate cruelty to birds. Like other forms of animal exploitation, pigeon racing is driven by money, and greed is sending millions of birds crashing into an early grave.”
The Queen, who has a pigeon loft with about 250 birds, is patron of the Royal Pigeon Racing Association (RPRA).
Her birds regularly take part in UK races, and she has had racing pigeons since she was a child.