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2002 in Western Europe

At the end of the year newspapers and TV stations normally have a review of highlights of the year that passed by. Unfortunately it is always more negative than positive and… unfortunately in pigeon sport it is not much different. Let’s have a look at some important happenings in 2002. They will not make you real happy but bad news is also news and you cannot run from it.

12TH MAY 2002

A day many Dutch fanciers will never forget is May 12th 2002.
Early morning it said on TV on a special page for pigeon fanciers that there was strong magnetism in the atmosphere and the advice was to be cautious when releasing birds.
But the weather did not look that bad, the sight was good, there was no rain so in nearly all provinces the races went on and nobody had problems with that. ‘If you can not race in such weather when can you race then?’ people wondered. ‘Magnetism in the atmosphere? So what?’
Later on they thought different though.
The birds from my province were released from a distance of 73 kilometres for me so we are talking about a pure short distance race, certainly for old birds.
We expected all birds to make it home in about 55 minutes but poor us.
Even 5 hours after the release still prizes were to be won which meant that two third of the birds did not even have a speed of 15 kilometres per hour.
It looked as if we were racing from 1,000 kilometres instead of 73.
Even the oldest fanciers had never experienced such a thing and we were prepared for an enormous smash, a racing season that was screwed and great losses.
But what happened by sunset to our great surprise?
After seven hours of flying nearly all birds arrived home in about 15 minutes time.
So no smash but a weird result it was.
Why weird? In such races always the same thing happens: Good birds are late, champions have a poor result, and birds that are always late win a prize.
But since that day no fancier would laugh when ‘magnetism in the atmosphere’ was mentioned.


The first weekend in June would also be unforgettable at least for those fanciers who use the Tipes system for electronic clocking in Holland.
In the morning when the birds arrived from the short distance races one fancier phoned the other that to his surprise no birds were registered. First people thought about a fault while basketing in the clubs but later on it turned out that no bird was registered from any station nowhere in the whole country.
And I can tell you that you feel bad when ‘your favourite’ gets home early and you see ‘no birds arrived yet’ when you look at your clock.
As about 25 percent of the Dutch use Tipes one can imagine what a mess it was that day. People cursed and people moaned.
‘What do we have to do?’ was the big question.
Those who had Tipes wanted the races to be cancelled of course but others reacted furiously.
It was so problematic as in some clubs nearly every body uses Tipes, in other clubs not even one and those clubs sometimes race in the same combine.
‘Tipes users’ in Germany or Belgium did not have any problems on the same day so the question was what went wrong?
Later it turned out it was a new up dated version of the software that was to blame.
It ‘could not read’ the date as 2-6 and 6-2 were mixed up. The program read February 6th instead of June 2nd.


Also the Belgians had their memorable days in 2002.
Two weeks before their great National Bourges there was a smash from Orleans.
One third of the birds got lost among which numerous Aces and proven super birds.
Now the weather was to blame but the worst had still to come.
In September La Souterraine National (about 550 kilometres) was on the calendar. The birds were basketed on Thursday and supposed to fly two days later. But due to bad weather the race was postponed again and again.
The press smelt sensation. Papers and TV stations paid attention to ‘those 20,000 poor birds being locked up in the baskets for six days’. As animal protectors raised their voices too our sport was hot news in a negative sense again.
Some fanciers were not pessimistic about the outcome though and they referred to Barcelona for which race the birds are in the basket for a week too.
Others did not agree. ‘If the race takes place you will cry for your mother’ they said and added ‘Barcelona is for old experienced birds that makes a difference; those youngsters will not make it as the muscles will be stiff and the birds full of stress. Finally after having been in the baskets for a whole week they let the birds go.
But many did not ‘go’, they did not even leave the release station. The race resulted in great losses indeed and the press found a motive to shoot the sport off. ‘This torturing (racing pigeons) is a big scandal and should be stopped’ some papers cried out in capitals.
It was interesting though to notice that some fanciers got all their birds home whereas others suffered massive losses.
Of course it was the health of the birds that made the difference.
A thing like this could never happen in Holland though.
All Dutch birds are transported by special trucks and in case of continuing bad weather the trucks return home with the birds.
If the birds are transported by train there is no way back so now the Belgians plan to ban transport by train in future.


Other bad news comes from Germany and that news is real bad.
Since a couple of years the majority of the fanciers over there are unable to keep their young birds healthy and this is becoming worse and worse.
Many even stopped racing babies.
In the national magazine ‘Die Brieftaube’ doctors and scientist had been discussing this so called ‘young bird disease’ for many weeks.
‘What is the reason and how can we solve this problem’ they wondered.
Some claim it is Adeno or Coli (or a combination of the two), others say it is herpes; others blame a new virus (the circo virus).
Anyway the problem is little less than a catastrophe and for some fanciers reason to quit as they cannot handle it any more. The funny thing is that most probably in no country in the world so many vitamins and antibiotics are administered than in Germany.
Did the Germans create a bird with less immunity throughout the years?
As Coli (Adeno) is becoming a problem in more countries we will discuss that in another issue.


And then there is the problem of massive losses of young birds in Holland, Belgium and Germany. Though KBDB and even more NPO are investigating this matter thoroughly no one has an explanation.
NPO formed a commission of so-called scientists (WOWD) and their conclusion was that young birds were raced from distances that were too great with the result that races further than 400 kilometres were banned.
The majority of the fanciers however did not agree and reacted furiously.
They did not and could not deny the losses as they are a fact, but in their view it is certainly not the distance that causes these losses.
Most birds get lost in training tosses or in the first two or three races so from SHORT DISTANCE. For that reason one might think those losses are due to lack of experience. ‘But why?’ fanciers wonder ‘did we not know about those losses in the past?’
In the old days people did not have a car, now they do have a car, birds are trained more intensive but still get lost.
Another opinion is that ‘we’ made the birds too weak by overmedicating but… birds in good health get lost too.
Some blame it on the weather but they are wrong too. Birds also get lost when the weather is nice.
Then there are the people who say it is because the air is full of shit with our mobile phones and the Internet but… the strange thing is that old birds do not get lost and the losses do not take place every weekend.
On the other hand it is a proven fact that nearby airports more birds get lost than elsewhere. So nobody seems to have an adequate answer and… to my surprise I was also asked about losses of young birds when I was in China.


The other bad news is about hawks.
The ‘hawk problem’ is becoming bigger and bigger in Western Europe and also in America. In many areas people will get rid of all their birds if they let them out in winter as all of them will be eaten.
In winter there is hardly other food for hawks as little song birds have moved to warm areas such as Spain and Africa and do not return until April.
Furthermore it is frustrating that hawks are protected and it is strictly forbidden to catch or hunt them.
‘You can better kill a hawk than a human being’ people sometimes laugh.


Other news is that the Belgians are very unhappy about some new rules.
The first is that from now on only vets are allowed to needle against paramyxo. In the past fanciers could take measures themselves like famers do with chickens.
Some say it is a conspiracy between the vets and the government. As the number of fanciers went down vets who only deal with pigeons saw their income go down dramatically.
The fact that of late they are forbidden to sell medicine makes it even worse.
If they find pigeons sick they write a subscription and with that paper the fanciers have to go to a chemist.
Now that fanciers themselves cannot needle their birds many feel like being betrayed. ‘They are after our money’ they moan.
Another hot item in Belgium is electronic clocking.
Both in Germany and Holland fanciers are used to it, in Belgium it has only been allowed at long distance since 2 years.
Now (for 2003) KBDB have put the light on green for middle distance too.
And the ‘little man’ with little money feels betrayed again.
Many say they will stop as it is not fair if one clocks his birds manual and the other electronic as the difference should be 12 seconds per bird.
And indeed examples are known of birds that lost a first prize National by seconds as they were clocked manual instead of electronic such as the birds by whom they were beaten.
Now fanciers threaten they will quit but I doubt they will.
In Holland there was much opposition too, also Dutch fanciers said they would quit the sport if electronic clocking would become a fact but I do not know of any who did, on the contrary. I heard several old guys say ‘thanks to electronic clocking I can still race birds’.


Talking about new developments nowadays there is the possibility to check the origin of birds by means of DNA.
Two feathers of the cock, two of the hen and two of the baby would do to be almost sure about the origin of the baby.
It is rather delicate though, one cannot always blame the fancier if something seems to be wrong as also pigeons mess around sometimes.
But if you are supposed to have say 10 full brothers or sisters and DNA tests show not even one of them is you may have reason to doubt.
Now there are rumours things like that happen and that is bad. If it is only rumours it is bad for the man to whom it concerns as being falsely accused is far from fun.
If it is more than rumours this is bad too as no one likes to be cheated when buying pigeons. Anyway the good thing is that from now on some will think twice before cheating as their reputation may be screwed forever.


I am repeatedly asked if any new stars stood up in Holland or Belgium last year.
The answer is like always, very few, as in our sport it is mostly the same names who are in the spotlight. Sometimes such a man may have a poor year but the year after he is at the top again.
But one certainly cannot deny the fantastic results of Belgian Van Elsacker and his American buddy Mardiss at Middle Distance and in Holland it was Volkens and young Bas Verkerk (only 25 years of age) and his father who were spectacular in 2002.
Volkens was the man to be beaten in the 2 day races whereas Verkerk was sensational in the one day races (400 to 700 kilometres).
The latter will represent Holland at the Olympiad in France with no less than three birds which is unique for Holland as far as I know.
I am also often asked about the future of our sport.
Unfortunately the number of fanciers went down again considerably.
In Belgium 3 million rings were manufactured ten years ago, for the coming year it is 2,5 million but KBDB fears only 2 million will be sold.
So that means one million youngsters less in only 10 years time.
But the good news is that at the National NPO show in Holland in November ONE room was filled till the last seat and that was the room for young fanciers. In 2002 more young people than before started racing pigeons as it seems.
Unfortunately even more fanciers quit but seeing so many teenagers being so much interested in pigeon sport is a hopeful sign in dark times.