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Maltese pigeons for longest race ever

"Maltese pigeons have a tough race" - Vince Barbara. Photo: Jason Borg.

"Maltese pigeons have a tough race" - Vince Barbara. Photo: Jason Borg.

Maltese racing pigeons will compete against 26,000 others from all over Europe in a race from Barcelona, the first time they will be taking part in such a long race.

Maltese pigeon fanciers have been competing regularly in races from Pozzallo, Syracuse, Reggio Calabria, Taranto, Bari and Manfredonia. But the longest race they have so far taken part in is the one from Manfredonia, where pigeons have to fly a distance of 660 kilometres. The race from Barcelona covers 1,232 kilometres.

Some 25 enthusiasts have sent 35 pigeons to Barcelona. If the weather conditions are good, the pigeons will be released tomorrow.

The other birds are from The Netherlands, Belgium, France, Germany and the UK. The Maltese pigeons were taken to the San Gwann racing pigeon club and then sent to Belgium, where all the pigeons were collected. From there the pigeons were taken to Barcelona.

The winning pigeons fetch very high prices and are bought by fanciers who strive to breed the best pigeons from them. Alfred Micallef from the San Gwann racing pigeon club, who encouraged fanciers to send pigeons to the race, said last year's winning pigeon was sold to a Japanese fancier for £108,000.

Mr Micallef said it would be very tough for Maltese pigeons because first they have to separate themselves from the huge flock, most of which will fly in a north easterly direction, while Maltese pigeons will have to fly in a south easterly direction. Secondly, Maltese pigeons will have to fly across a long stretch of sea, he said.

Vince Barbara, a pigeon fancier, said about 45 per cent of pigeons usually return from long-haul races. Ten per cent return within two days and the rest over a period of time.

"Weather plays an important part. The satisfaction one gets from seeing a pigeon trained and return to the loft following a race is hard to describe," Mr Barbara said.

Pigeon racing in Malta was introduced by the British in the 1940s and there are still a number of pigeon fanciers in their 80s who were among the pioneers of the sport on the island.

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