Police last week recovered 13 stolen racing pigeons within 14 hours, as training intensifies ahead of spring competitions.
At about 6pm on Friday last week, police officers on patrol in New Taipei City’s Rueifang District (瑞芳) noticed that a vehicle had been parked for a long time in front of a restaurant that serves alcohol.
Suspecting the driver might be drunk, the officers slowly drove past to see if it would elicit a reaction. When the vehicle pulled out after them, they turned around and blocked it.
Photo copied by Lin Chia-tung, Taipei Times
While performing an alcohol test on the driver, surnamed Chang (張), the officers noticed a cooing sound coming from the trunk, where they said they discovered 11 pigeons, rope nets and other equipment for catching the birds.
Chang and a passenger, surnamed Lai (賴), said they caught the pigeons at Nuannuan Sports Park in Keelung to train for racing, not to hold for ransom, the officers said.
However, police discovered that Lai had been implicated in a Taipei pigeon extortion ring in 2015, while Chang had a record of stealing lumber.
Police said they believed the suspects were stealing racing pigeons to extort the owners for money.
At 8am the next day, an informant surnamed Yeh (葉) told Rueifang police that a group had discovered three pigeon thieves in the mountains between Keelung and Rueifang and were able to stop two from running away.
At the scene, police found two men, surnamed Hung (洪) and Lai (賴), with nets and two racing pigeons, and detained them on suspicion of theft.
Based on the tags around the pigeons’ legs, the 13 birds came from as far away as Taoyuan, Miaoli County and other regions, police said.
The owners did not yet know their pigeons had been stolen when police contacted them.
They thanked the officers for “holding on to the fruits of our training,” police said.
Pigeon racing has been a popular leisure activity among Taiwanese since the 1970s.
To compete, trained pigeons are released a set distance from their coops and timed to determine which returns the fastest.
Races are held four times a year to correspond with the seasons, one enthusiast said.
As the pedigree and training of the pigeons are critical to their performance, some enthusiasts buy purebred birds from Belgium, the Netherlands and other places for millions of New Taiwan dollars, in addition to the about 120,000 breeders in Taiwan who raise coveted breeds, statistics showed.
Considering their value, some people attempt to capture pigeons during training and extort their owners for their safe return.
Additional reporting by Cheng Ching-yi and Liu Ching-hou
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