Who would pay a few lakh taka for a pair of exotic and rare pigeons? One may find it unbelievable, but there are some passionate pigeon lovers who would pay even more if they find a pigeon breed they have been looking for. Female pigeons tend to be on the pricey side since they are stronger and it is difficult to catch them.
Pigeons, aside from having a market for being fancy birds, also help meet up the growing demand of protein. There are thousands of pigeon farms all across Bangladesh. Pabna was once called the capital of pigeon. Dhaka, Pabna, Natore, Mymensingh, Sylhet and Chittagong boast having most of the pigeon farms.
Out of the world's 310 kinds of pigeons, Bangladeshi markets sell around a hundred varieties. Rock pigeon is considered to be the world's oldest domesticated bird.
Victoria Crown is the most expensive variety in Bangladesh. The price of one pair ranges from Tk8 lakh to Tk10 Lakh.
Qurashy Md Tanvir Hasan, the General Secretary of National Pigeon Association of Bangladesh (NPAB), Abdul Malek from Chattogram and Khalil from Cumilla are among the many who have such a variety in their pigeon collections.
The first pigeon exhibition, showcasing a rare variety "Bokhara Trumpeter" took place at the International Convention City Bashundhara, Dhaka, last year by NPAB. Bokhara Trumpeter is a breed of fancy pigeons developed over many years by selective breeding.
The Cavendish is a champion bird from Belgium. Its sister was bought for Tk4,10,000 from an auction several years back and according to the Bangladesh Racing Pigeon Owner's Association (BRPOA), it is the highest amount anyone has spent on a pigeon in the country.
Apart from winning races in Bangladesh, fanciers often sell the squabs of these high-priced birds at an even higher cost to other fanciers.
In 2013, a Belgian pigeon called Usain Bolt was sold to a Chinese businessman for an astounding 400,000 pounds, worth around Tk30,000,000.
Factors determining the price
"There are many factors behind pricing a pigeon squab. You look at the number of races its mother has won and you also look at the races. When you find that its relatives have won a number of national races, the price automatically increases," explained Md Amdad Hossain Bhuiyan, the General Secretary of BRPOA.
Sheikh Jamshed Ali Rajib, the owner of Aothoy Walid Pigeon Farm in Boyra, Khulna, said that there are over 100 pigeon farms in Khulna City. He sells the Jacobin variety for Tk5,000 to Tk20,000 while the Danish Tumbler is sold at Tk 40,000 to Tk50,000 a pair.
"Pigeon symbolises peace and love. I love my birds very much. My aim is to establish a pigeon sanctuary where all different types of pigeons can be found," Rajib said.
He added, "Pigeon is one of the most affectionate, fancy and passionate birds. I've loved them since I was young. It's great that I was able to make pigeon breeding my career."
With almost empty hands, Shariful Islam from Magura returned home from Dubai in 2011 and became very upset. At one stage, he tried his luck in pigeon farming and since then he has not looked back. He used to feed and sell pigeons to traders across the country. Alongside, he has also made pigeon cages.
At present, Shariful earns a profit of Tk80,000 from pigeon farming every month.
Shariful has 35 local and international varieties of pigeons. Of them, each pair of "Bold Head" is sold at Tk1,80,000 and the "Gerafer"costs Tk1 lakh while Feel Back, English Trumpeter and Black Laurie are sold at Tk40,000 to Tk50,000 a pair.
Pigeon market of the capital
Dhaka has several dedicated pigeon markets in Tongi, Mirpur-1, Mohammadpur Beribadh and Kaptan Bazar - the biggest among all. Besides, there are independent pet shops other than the popular pet market in Katabon.
The Kaptan Bazar pigeon market brings together thousands of buyers and sellers every Friday. If you go there, you will be surprised that they do not just sell food, nests and pigeons, but also accessories such as "jhumka" for pigeons to be tied on their legs so they make rhythmic sounds when they walk.
Rony, a pigeon vendor, said that he sells pigeons at prices starting from Tk200 to upto Tk5,000 depending on the breed. The price of a pigeon depends on the species and its colour. Fancy pigeons have high demand now and their prices can go up to Tk10,000 to 15,000.
A few years back, fancy pigeons were even costlier. Another vendor Abul Kashem said, "The pigeon we sold for Tk60,000 to Tk70,000 two to three years back now sells at only Tk15,000."
According to Abul, a large number of pigeons were exported to India at the time but that demand has fallen since.
Pigeon breeding has become very popular in the country, resulting in an increase in production and fall in prices. The most common and cheapest breed in Bangladesh is "Gola". Other breeds that are very popular include Chila, Lalchila, Giribaz, Garra, Fency, Pankhi and Racer.
"The pleasure of keeping pigeons is that you take one to Mirpur, release it and you will find it back home in Becharam Dewri after a while," pigeon lover and businessman Rafiqul Islam told the correspondent, who lives in the locality with 300 pigeons.
The joy of pigeon farming
Watching the pigeons' daily exercise flight is a fascinating sight. As the cage doors are opened, the pigeons zoom out. Within minutes, they are flying in circular formations - glittering like diamonds in the sunshine.
Those were "Giribaz" pigeons, but Rafiqul also had a smaller flock of fancy "Homer" pigeons, which are much faster than the Giribaz.
His rooftop is a pigeon paradise. Meticulously designed wrought-iron cages house the birds. He keeps seed-mixes in buckets for them. There are separate buckets that hold water for drinking and bathing. The cages have built-in waste removal systems. Parent pigeons raise their squabs in separate breeding cages. Sick pigeons rest and recover in another separate cage.
Until a few years ago, racing pigeons in Bangladesh meant the traditional Giribaz pigeons. During racing, competitors travel to a spot approximately 25km to 50km away from home. Each person then releases the same number of pigeons. The winner is the one who has the most pigeons returning home by sunset.
Homers are a recent introduction. They fly longer and faster, reaching altitudes where tailwind pushes them. The record-holder flew from St. Martin's Island to Dhaka in just two hours and 40 minutes. Homers always come home, so the winner is determined by speed.
Pigeon racers live mostly in Mirpur or Old Dhaka. Though both Homer and Giribaz are racing pigeons, Homer owners have clubs for organising races and activities. Each Homer wears a band with a serial number and registration from the club. Owners often practise selective breeding techniques to improve the performance of their pigeons over generations.
Out of frustration for not getting a job, Sohel from Brindanbanpara, Bogura, started his pigeon farm with a small capital in 2014. Initially, he was earning up to Tk35,000 per month from his birds. Now, his average monthly income has reached Tk45,000. He currently has 50 pairs of 25 varieties - mostly housed in a small room attached to his living room.
Sohel specialises in fancy pigeons such as American Runt, German Jacobin, English Carrier, French Fish Mondain, Turkish Tumbler and African Owl. The breeds he has are exotic and costly enough.
"What I learnt is that for any educated person who does not find a job, mental strength is their capital. Invest that in hard work. Sincere, personal efforts can bring success." Sohel advised.