TAIPEI - Animal rights group PETA on Friday urged Taiwanese authorities to investigate the pigeon racing industry, which it said costs the lives of 1.5 million birds a year.
"We are calling on the police to protect these peaceful, home-loving birds by investigating all violations of the laws associated with pigeon racing and prosecuting the guilty parties," PETA said in a statement after filing a complaint with Taiwanese police this month.
PETA (People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals) said a five-month investigation it carried out in Taiwan found that races "often proved fatal" for pigeons that were released hundreds of kilometres (miles) offshore and forced to fly home.
"Thousands of young birds die in each race when they are swept underwater by waves, or succumb to exhaustion before reaching land and drown because they cannot rest on water," said a PETA investigator who asked not to be named.
Pigeons were also forced to race with untreated injuries, while not properly rested or in extreme weather and were sometimes killed if they returned late, PETA said.
More than 30,000 Taiwanese pigeon breeders race about two million pigeons each year, of which an estimated 1.5 million die, according to PETA.
"Taiwan's pigeon-racing industry is the most extreme, most deadly, and most crime-ridden in the world," said PETA spokeswoman Ashley Fruno. The sport is popular in Taiwan but has been linked to illegal gambling.
Taiwanese media estimated that pigeon racing was worth Tw$70 billion (S$2.9 billion) and has existed for over 60 years. Criminal activity linked to the sport such as extortion, race fixing and kidnapping pigeons for ransom have been reported in the local media.
The National Police Agency said they would look into the allegations.