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Dark times

January 28th was the most tragic day in the history of our sport.
The Polish organised their National Pigeon Show at Katowice which is yearly attended by up to 10,000 fanciers.
In the evening ‘Katowice’ was on the news reel of all television stations in Europe.
The roof of the immense building where the show was held had collapsed under the weight of a thick layer of snow, killing 66 fanciers.
Hearing the story of doctor Henk de Weerd who had fought his way from under the debris with people dieing around him was just horrifying.
Thanks God it did not happen some hours earlier when the immense hall was fully filled. Then the death toll would have been much higher.

The Dutch have 2 National shows, one of them at Houten in March. This years’ event was attended again by many thousands from all over Europe and even China. The talk of the day was the drama in Poland and the bizarre situation at the time.
Normally about 5,000 birds are auctioned at Houten but for this year the government forbade the sale, due to H5N1.
On the same day though pigeon magazine De Duif had an auction some kilometres more south without any restrictions. v No body could understand this absolute madness.

The situation March 2006 was as follows in Europe:
- Both in Belgium and the UK fanciers can let their birds out and there are no restrictions on races, but they can NOT race from abroad and naturally inland races are a farce for fanciers in a small country such as Belgium apart for those who race short distance only.
- In Holland not only shows and races are banned, birds also have to be locked up, which is a disaster for about 500,000 youngsters that are about 2 months old and bound to get lost, if they can only fly out until 3 months old or so.
- Germany is a special story. In Holland and Belgium H5N1 had not showed up yet, in Germany however poultry had died from the virus but still… there are no restrictions whatsoever on pigeons. Germans can let the birds out and even race.

At Houten there was a seminar with vets, scientists and famous racers.
About 2,000 fanciers were eager to hear what they had to say about this situation but there was not much to say or explain.
I was also there and people asked me about my position, since they know I live in a town which is both Belgian and Dutch and many club mates are Belgian.
What could I say?
My neighbours could let the birds fly and race provided they were Belgian, I had to lock them up since I am Dutch.
Furthermore hundreds of pigeons house on a church that is less than one kilometre from my loft, not to mention the enormous amounts of swans and ducks in the nearby lakes.
The only thing I could say was ‘this world is crazy’.
Meanwhile camera men had come to film my ‘prisoners’, the pigeons of my Belgian neighbours that flew over my lofts and the doves in the trees in my yard.
I said ‘this world is crazy’ since the mess is not restricted to Europe only.
At this time we can export pigeons to Japan, China, America, Canada, Thailand, but Taiwan does NOT allow pigeons to enter the country.
People wonder if this is a matter of politics or ignorance.
The scientists at Houten agreed that it was ignorance among the governments that had led to this crazy situation that nobody can understand and which lacks any scientific support.
If they are right there is some good news for Holland, Belgium and perhaps Taiwan.

Here is the story of the Germans WHY there are no restrictions in their country.
In 2003 some rich ‘pigeon guys’ had donated money for a research on H7N7, since they were worried about the future.
The research was done, the virus was tested on all kinds of birds and the outcome was that it was almost impossible for pigeons to get the virus, to be a vector or to make people sick.
If there were one bird that was no risk it was racing pigeons !!!
That was the conclusion of scientists after tests done in 2003.
Late 2005 professor, doctor Ortrud Werner carried out thorough investigations and tests on poultry and pigeons on H5N1.
Her conclusion was exactly the same.
Professor Doctor Werner: ‘The chances that pigeons get or spread the virus are almost nil. They are no risk.‘
It was mainly due to her report German fanciers do not face any problems so far.

60,000 German fanciers are happy with the report by Mrs Werner.
Now the Dutch try to convince their Cabinet that the measures which are taken are ridiculous, hoping they will understand and they can race as soon just like their neighbours in Germany.
After what happened this winter it seems obvious that the boards of pigeon organisations of all countries should stick together and share useful information in times of crises like these.
Some hundreds of thousands of fanciers from all over the world might benefit.