RKS Film: “Million Dollar Pigeons”: Do You Still Think Pigeons Are Flying Rats?

“Million Dollar Pigeons” is a fascinating look into the exciting (yes I said exciting!) world of pigeon racing. Once a working man’s sport it has morphed into a multi-million-dollar business where recently two million dollars was spent by a Chinese bidder on a pigeon in an auction. The Chinese millionaires are in the auction arena spending money like it is going out of style. Chairman Mao would be turning in his grave with this capitalist decadence!

The big race, until recently, was the South Africa Million Dollar Pigeon Race. Cocktail parties, gala dinners and lots of nail biting. In this race the entrance fee is $1,000 a bird pricing is cutting out the working-class pigeon fanciers and favouring the wealthy. You have to feed and provide medical care for your birds. In fact as for medical care the documentary features a jet setting pigeon veterinarian who exclusively treats pigeons. One problem with these international races is that birds come from dozens of countries and combine them all in pigeon lofts and disease can spread like wildfire.

With any of these expensive birds you can entrust a fortune to race organizers to house, feed and train the birds. Yes they are released father and farther away from “homebase” as their “training”. They don’t call them “homing pigeons” for nothing.

In its 24th year the South African Million Dollar Pigeon Race runs into discord after suddenly increasing the length of the race which is inviting charges of cruelty from animal rights activists. Then despite having 9,000 pigeons from 40 countries where the entrance fee is $1,000 per pigeon the winners aren’t paid and lawsuits ensue. Apparently there are problems with some of the equity partners and COVID? But where did all the entrance fee money end up?

Well too bad so sad and it is sad as all the staff and non equity partners get stiffed out of hard-earned money. There are 5 other multi-million-dollar pigeon races and one that is featured is the Pattaya race in Thailand. The South African race seems focused on money and has a disregard for the pigeon fanciers. The Pattaya organizers have a reverence and respect for pigeons with almost a spiritual view of the sport and realize the trust pigeon fanciers have placed with them.

Pigeon race winners can make a small fortune off their winning birds by breeding them or selling them for breeding purposes. That and pigeon auctions seem to be where the sure money is.

You know what? It’s exciting to wait to see the winner flutter in!

Urban pigeons may be flying rats but don’t paint too wide a swath and apply that to all pigeons. These racing pigeons and pigeon fanciers are something else.

Directed by Gavin FitzGerald.

Festival screenings at Toronto Hot Docs will be April 29/May 3/7. For 5 days commencing April 30 it can be streamed but is geoblocked to Canada.

RKS Film Rating 88/100.

Published by Robert K Stephen (CSW)

Robert K Stephen writes about food and drink, travel, and lifestyle issues. He is one of the few non-national writers to be certified as a wine specialist by the Society of Wine Educators, in Washington, DC. Robert was the first associate member of the Wine Writers’ Circle of Canada. He also holds a Mindfulness Certification from the University of Leiden and the University of Toronto. Be it Spanish cured meat, dried fruit, BBQ, or recycled bamboo place mats, Robert endeavours to escape the mundane, which is why he has established this publication. His motto is, "Have Story, Will Write."

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