Pigeons are among the most maligned urban wildlife despite the fact that human beings brought them to our shores and turned them loose in our cities -- not something that they chose. People trap them and poison them, and now the former fighter Mike Tyson is going to showcase how these complex and bright birds can be used as living "avatars," literally thrown to the winds -- including into storms that send them spiraling down to earth -- in endurance races. Tyson has expressed his excitement, not just at the fat check that he is getting from Animal Planet for his new show, Taking on Tyson, but also at the prospect of showing off his new venture -- pigeon racing, a pursuit that might win him and his friends cash prizes and purses. As for Animal Planet, it appears to be promoting gambling, which is illegal in many states.
Pigeons are gentle and smart and have complex social relationships. Their hearing and vision are both excellent. They flock in large numbers to help protect each other from predators, which they cannot do when trying to race back to their life mates and nests from a strange place hundreds of miles from home.
Instead of riding the air currents for pleasure or exploring grassy areas for morsels of food, birds used in racing are relegated to small wire-mesh worlds that may afford them little protection from the elements. It is the bird equivalent of the orca bathtub at SeaWorld. And the "losers" suffer a grim fate. At PETA, we get calls from frantic people who have found banded birds exhausted, injured, or starving; pigeons raised in coops do not know how to find food and water in the real world. Since pride and profit are often the motivating factors in pigeon racing, owners have little use for birds who can't or won't win. "Wring his neck," is what people so often hear when they report a banded pigeon. So much for love and respect, which Tyson seems to talk a lot about nowadays.
There's little doubt that Tyson's show will have a 101 Dalmatians effect. Many of the boxer's fans will casually acquire birds and just as quickly tire of the idea when their birds fail to come home in one piece or at all. Taking on Tyson will sentence countless birds to life in a cramped cage and a bad end. Pigeon racing is a lousy, greedy, and often unlawful activity. One thing that it is not is kind to birds.