The pigeons are coming home after a day of training. They live at Samuel Lofts, a club for racing pigeons in Walkerville, 30 kilometers south of Johannesburg, South Africa.
The owner of the club, pigeon fancier and world champion racer, Samuel Mbiza has worked with pigeons since he was a child shooting birds out of the sky with his sling-shot.
Mbiza says it became more than simple fun after his mother bought him a fantail – a fancy pigeon with more feathers than other breeds.
There is something about these pigeons, the way they look and they look athletic.
“There is something about these pigeons, the way they look and they look athletic and the way they behave, and also their intelligence, they are very, very intelligent,” he added.
Last year, Mbiza made history by bidding and buying Belgium’s best long-distance racing pigeon for a record 350,000 US dollars.
His plan is to breed the bird – nick-named the ‘Usain Bolt pigeon’, and create a legion of champion racers for South Africa.
There are over 4,000 pigeon fanciers in South Africa but Mbiza is one of few black breeders and racers.
Since Mbiza started the Samuel Lofts seven years ago, he has built a team of 650 birds in different stages of training and maturity.
He is also working on getting more, young, black South Africans involved.
Jerry Khumalo is Samuel Lofts manager. He is in charge of training and supervises the care of the birds.
“I teach them how to fly outside, how to train them, so in the morning we wake up, first we take them out, we chase them for one hour, thirty minutes, fifteen minutes, when they are still young. When they grow up we start to take them out of the bakkie, we basket them take them out 20 k’s, 40 kilometers, 60 kilometers up to 100, like from this week we train them 100 kilometers,” he said.
The sport is worth millions of dollars. In some races, first prize can go up to 1 million US dollars and the entry fee as high as 1,000 US dollars.
Pigeons flying long distances are exposed to various hazards like prey and other flying objects or power lines. Some die on the way home, while others get injured.
There have also been reported cases of doping, something activists say is difficult to clamp down on.
Mbiza says he loves his pigeons and treats them like royalty.