Reviews The pigeon sport, a new passion for young Senegalese

12:35  04 december  2020
12:35  04 december  2020 Source:   liberation.fr

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Moustapha Gueye, 40 ans, pose avec ses pigeons de concours à Dakar, le 1er octobre 2020 © JOHN WESSELS Moustapha Gueye, 40, poses with his competition pigeons in Dakar, October 1, 2020

The pigeon sport, which in Europe suffers from a hobby image for retirees, conversely is experiencing a boom in Senegal, where a young generation is embarking on the breeding of carrier pigeons, hoping one day to compete with the best champions of Belgium or the north of France.

Pigeons de concours pendant leur entraînement du matin, à Dakar, le 1er octobre 2020 © JOHN WESSELS Competition pigeons during their morning training, in Dakar, October 1, 2020

When he enters his small dovecote, on the roof of his building in the Medina, a popular district of Dakar, Oumar Johnson , in his thirties, is forced to walk forward. Among the dozens of birds flying in all directions in the confined and smelly space, he spots one and grabs it with a sure gesture.

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Un jeune homme regarde l'entraînement matinal de pigeons, à Dakar, le 1er octobre 2020. © JOHN WESSELS A young man watches the morning pigeon training in Dakar on October 1, 2020.

"This one is Super King", the most expensive show pigeon ever sold in Senegal, says it with pride.

Mr. Johnson, who chairs the young Senegalese Colombian Federation (FCS), had to spend 420,000 CFA francs (around 640 euros) to acquire at auction this Moroccan pigeon with a flattering pedigree. He hopes to create a line of champions with Super King when he does breed.

Mr Johnson was already breeding local pigeons for fun when he discovered, "seven or eight years ago on the internet" that certain species were specially selected for long journeys.

His passion for pigeon racing was born. Since then, it's like a drug, and even a "way of life", says this professional scientist.

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Born in Belgium, this discipline developed in the mining and industrial cities of northern France at the beginning of the 20th century.

In Senegal, races are generally held over distances of 100 to 250 km, significantly less than the most prestigious European races, but the rules are identical: the pigeons are released from the same place and must return to their loft on as quickly as possible.

- "Athletes" -

France still has some 10,000 pigeon fanciers, 50% of which are in the Nord and Pas-de-Calais, but their number is declining by around 2% per year. In Belgium, where they were 250,000 just after the Second World War, there are around 20,000, mostly elderly.

The irruption in recent years of wealthy collectors from China, where owning competition pigeons is a sign of prestige, has shaken up the small pigeon world.

Farms have become more professional and prices have soared. On November 15, a pigeon from a Belgian breeding was auctioned off to a Chinese buyer for a record price of 1.6 million euros, in an online sale.

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Senegal is still far from these summits: the West African country has only some 350 enthusiasts. Pigeons are traded from 10,000 CFA francs (15 euros) and winning a competition only brings in the equivalent of a few hundred euros.

Nevertheless, "they are athletes, they need to train," another enthusiast, Moustapha Gueye, told AFP.

Every day, from 7:00 am, this 40-year-old trader feeds and heals his charges, before letting them go for a workout.

He also tries to cross males and females of foreign and local species, hoping to develop a line of pigeons able to endure long distances and withstand the heat of Senegal.

- "Living from your passion" -

A few weeks ago, several dozen pigeon fanciers met in Dakar, at the very end of the evening, for a life-size test, just before the start of the official season shopping.

After the registration formalities, the birds are transported to Diourbel, 155 km further east, where they are released at dawn.

A few hours later, one of the participants, Mamadou Diallo, is walking 100 steps on the roof of his house, when suddenly a pigeon appears.

The 33-year-old electro-mechanic plays a whistle and waves a bottle filled with seeds to lure the bird to the loft. He then carefully notes the arrival time, which the judges will compare to the time of the other participants.

His "dream", he says, is "to bring the pigeon sport to the attics" of Senegal. But also to have "a large farm" of breeding to "live from (his) passion", which he hopes to pass on to his children.

In Senegal, these new generations, although often deprived of financial means, represent the future of pigeon racing, believes Oumar Johnson, the president of the federation.

"In Europe, we must motivate young people so that they devote themselves to pigeon racing. Here, they rush", he said, dreaming that one day Senegal would be "one of the great nations of pigeons. race".

eml / siu / blb

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