Feeling flighty

pigeon w

Usain Bolt is the world’s fastest man. But a pigeon called Bolt hit the headlines this week after it was impounded at Beijing airport along with more than a thousand thoroughbred birds. The reason? Customs declared that their new Chinese owners – who had imported the pigeons from Belgium – had not paid the proper duty on the birds.

Pigeon racing was banned in China in 1949 but the sport has enjoyed a revival in popularity (racing is legal, but betting on it is not: see WiC124). Many wealthy Chinese now spend large sums to buy the best homing pigeons from the world’s top breeders in Belgium.

Bolt (the pigeon) set a new record when the Chinese buyer paid €310,000 ($421,808) for him.

That said, the birds still look like bog-standard pigeons to the untrained eye, so their Chinese importers decided it was worth trying to declare them at a token value to reduce the 10% import duty and 13% sales tax.

But officials were alive to the ruse and demanded full payment before the pigeons could fly the customs coop.

Fearing for the wellbeing of the impounded birds, as well as his country’s pigeon-dealing reputation, the Belgian ambassador to China even got involved in the case.

One shipment of birds, including Bolt, has now been freed after the buyers negotiated a financial settlement with customs.That said, Bolt himself will never be able to take to the skies in China for the simple reason that he might then try to fly off home, the head of Belgium’s Pigeon trading association told The Guardian. But we shouldn’t feel too sorry for the pigeon champion. “He will have a good retirement,” said Nikolaas Gyselbrecht.  “He will have a very nice pigeon loft and he will see a lot of female pigeons.”

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