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Island Ecology

Island Ecology

by José P Ribas

Racing Pigeons
Part One


Ibiza Ecology

Ibiza is to stage the World Racing Pigeon Grand Prix next year.

It is a big honour and comes after some notable successes by breeders from the island.

"Columbophilia" also "Peristeraphilia" or "Colombofilia" in Spanish, is a word made up of "Columbas" (Latin for pigeon) and "Philos" (Greek for lover).

It is about the art, the science and the rules to develop and increase the natural capacity of orientation and the flying resistance of the pigeon.

This word is only used for the "fanciers" who nurse and train the messenger or racing pigeon. They are "Columbophilos", a special name that distinguishes them from those who just nurse and keep any pigeon in general.

Men throughout history have used different kinds of messenger pigeons. It was probably a pigeon that flew back to Noah's Ark with a green olive tree branch in its beak (though it is a white dove that is nowadays recognised as the peace symbol).

The Egyptian pharaohs used them five thousand years ago to communicate with their vast empire. The Greeks used pigeons to communicate the names of the Olympic Games champions to all their cities. The Romans legions took them through France, Great Britain, Spain, North Africa, the Middle East, etc., leaving a few in every setting and camp, so their information could reach Rome in a matter of hours, when it would take days or even weeks by any other way.

There are historical records of Marc Anthony using them in the battle of Módena in the year 43 BC. But it was as early as 1171 BC when Malik el Adel Nour-Eddyn Mahmoud, Sultan of Alepo and Egypt, was considered to be the creator of the first regular airmail post.

Since then, messenger pigeons have been involved in most wars and historical events in this part of the world and also used as a regular post service in the Middle East cities. In the year 1280, in Cairo, there were more then two thousand messenger pigeons maintaining regular communication with Alexandria, Damieta, and Gaza and from there to Damascus, Jerusalem and Baghdad. They were also used by the Arabs to battle with the Crusaders and against the Christians in Mainland Spain.

In the Flanders wars of the sixteen century, in the siege of Paris in 1594, in the French Revolution, etc. History is full of citations and anecdotes about the very important role that messenger pigeons have been involved with.

But not only for war: sailors and merchants of any epoch sent pigeons in advance to announce their arrival. In 1815, after Napoleon's defeat at Waterloo, a messenger pigeon brought this news to Mr. Rothschild in London, fifty hours before the British government knew it. This was enough time for him to buy a big amount of public options, very cheaply because of the war and to make one of the biggest fortunes of the first half of the nineteenth century.

When the telegraph was invented, it looked like it was the end for the services of the messenger pigeon. But again when Paris was besieged in 1870, pigeon power was the only way that the Parisians could communicate with the rest of the country and over 60,000 messages were sent by them. This was also the first time that microphotography was used to reduce the size of the messages.

In World War One, there were over 30,000 messenger pigeons in the French army. One of them was called "Cher ami" and passed into history. This "Dear Friend" (this is what its French name means) was a really good friend to an American battalion trapped in between two fires and being bombed by error with their own guns. There was no radio or telephone available, so, the battalion commander sent this pigeon with the message to cease fire and the right situation of the enemy. The poor bird was wounded by the enemy fire, it was bleeding, almost dead when it reached the allied lines, the message in a little tube hanging from its broken leg, but a lot of American lives were saved by its action.

In World War Two, there were so many services and actions done by this amazing bird, that we would need a thick book to mention only part of them. They were sent with parachutes from planes flying very high, in special cages that opened automatically with a little explosion when they were two hundred metres above ground. Some were released from the seabed by submarines in special capsules, driving in special lorries in all the battle fronts, flaying day and night, with strong winds, snow, rain or fog, like the "Pony Express" etc. Only from England more then 17,000 were sent to the enemy territory and to the French resistance, 1,700 of them came back. These birds were trained since 1941 in great secrecy somewhere in England by British "columbophilos". One of these birds called "William of Ornare" flew from Arnhem (Holland) 260 miles in four hours and twenty-five minutes in a special message mission.

There are about three hundred species of the "Columba" family in the world. In Europe, three of the wild species are the most important, "Columba palumbus" the biggest of them, "Columba oenas" a little bit smaller and "Columba livia" of the same size as the one before, also the one to adapt itself better to life in the cities.

The actual racing pigeon, the Belgian pigeon, because it was created in Belgium, is a relatively new species. The first news we have of them is around 1815. Five years later there are already records of pigeon racing. No-one is one hundred per cent sure of its origins; its creators never told their secrets, most probably quite a few mixtures had to be done to get where we are, but we know that all domestic pigeons come originally from the wild European "Columba livia".

Before then there were several species used as "messengers" being created in Belgium, the wild and very well built "Bizet" is the ancestor of a good number of the actual domestic pigeons, the "Culbutants" almost extinguished today, the "Gravates" smaller and very fast, the "Camus" completely disappeared at present time, the "Persian messenger" and the "English carrier". Most probably all these species were used to create the "Liege pigeon" of small size, rounded head, short beak, fast and persistent, and the "Antwerp pigeon" bigger, more resistant and stronger. From these two races, mixed together, the actual racing pigeon was created, the "Gantt pigeon" of about 500 grams for the male and 450 grams for the female.

When a good "columbophilo" breeds a real champion, he forms his own stock, and his new pigeons will be called after his name, so we have the Hansenne stock (he was considered the first "King of the Columbophilos"), the Janssens stock, the Vanschingem stock, the Speder stock, etc.

Therefore the actual racing pigeons and the modern competition, can be considered a Belgian creation, where this art-science-sport can be considered too as the National sport, with more then 160,000 licences for "columbophilos" in actual times.

In Spain, the first club or society of "Columbophilia" was founded in Barcelona, "Sociedad Colombofila de Catalunya" in the year 1890, with Diego de la Llave as president. The army, the commandant Pedro Vives y Vich, as president of it, a real pigeon expert, in 1894 founded the Spanish columbophilos federation "Federación Colombofila Española". "Sociedad Colombofila de Mallorca" in 1899 was the first in the Balearic Islands. In Ibiza in 1928, "Sociedad Colombofila Mensajera La Ibicenca" was the fifth of the Balearic clubs to be founded. Two new ones have been founded in this Island since then. In following weeks we shall be proud to present them to you.

Racing Pigeons have a very special relevance and a relative old tradition in the Balearic Islands. Joan Torres Roselló, (Tarba) Joan Prats Ferrer, both from the "Sociedad Colombofila Portmany" of Sant Antoni (Eivissa) have been Spanish champions in some of the categories, Prats Ferrer is the actual Spanish champion, Ramón Palau Serra from "Club Colombofilo Eivissa" was third in a World championship celebrated in Mexico, his pigeons have also contributed to win an International tittle for Spain, as well as several National titles and plenty of other important awards. Within the following editions we shall explain all about the different categories and championships.

This very well gained reputation brought the chance and the honour of celebrating the next Racing Pigeon World Grand Prix 2002 here, in the island of Eivissa (local name for Ibiza). I am sure that our enthusiastic and very much "columbophilos" experts will make a real success of this magnificent event. So far, I want to thank them very much for the big amount of help and information that I have from them, and for what is already a big success "Eivissa 2002", "World capital of Racing Pigeons".

In the near future there will be a website http://www.eivissagrandprix.com especially for this event and all the information of the "columbophilos" of Eivissa.


All Pictures © Gary Hardy (1988 & 1989)

Demolition News to Ruffle Feathers

I want to congratulate and thank as well GEN-GOB (Grup de Estudis de sa Natura-Grup Ornitologic Balear) especially its president Joan Carles Palerm and the speaker Mariano Marí for their courage and the extraordinary job they are doing for the ecological legality here in Eivissa.

Last week, the tribunals in Palma de Mallorca proved them right over the lawsuit they had versus the Sant Antoni Town Hall, about the legality of a big villa built on top of a hill in a protected area (ANEI - Area Natural de Especial Interes). The Town Hall has been condemned to demolish this house two years since it was built, even though there was a big opposition at the time and the house was denounced by GEN when it was starting to be built.

This is the second time that a similar thing has happened. There's a second house condemned by the tribunals to be demolished because of its illegal licence given from this institution. If demolition has to go ahead, the cost to the town, paid with public money, will be about 8,414,500 euros (1,400,000,000 pesetas) as compensation to the owners.

José P Ribas