BEIJING: Guarding against avian flu, which has forced a mass cull of birds in China, pigeon fancier Wang Jincang paid out nearly US$400 (RM1,760) to get his 200 racing pigeons vaccinated and fortified for the onset of the spring racing season.

“I normally choose imported medicine, which is several times more expensive than some local brands,” Wang said as he lined up to enter birds for contests that begin this month.

The cost of vaccination is small change compared with how much pigeon enthusiasts pay to buy prized breeds.

An egg can cost a few hundred dollars, while the price for a full-grown bird with a coveted bloodline can run into hundreds of thousands of dollars.

In 2013, a Chinese businessman paid €310,000 (RM1.48mil) for a Belgian-bred ra­­cing pigeon, whereas local birds can be bought for less than US$100 (RM440).

Wang does not want to say how much he has invested in his birds, though he spends almost US$1,500 (RM6,600) a month looking after their health, and describes his pastime as wagering time and money.

“Pigeon racing is essentially gambling. We are betting our time and fortune on the birds, similar to horse-betting,” Wang said.

Any form of gambling is banned in China, but pigeon races, which are flown over hundreds of kilometres, fall under the grey category of social sports.

Prize money has been rising. A club in Beijing is set to award 70 million yuan (RM44mil) in total prize money at its autumn championship. — Reuters


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