To some, they’re a flying nuisance but pigeons are a big business in Senegal.
From his roof in a suburb of the capital Dakar, shopkeeper and pigeon racer Moustapha Gueye releases dozens of birds from the loft, who quickly fly out of sight.
“Here it’s a factory, I’m creating athletes,” he says.
He takes care of his winged friends every morning by training them and developing crossbreeds suitable for flying in hot weather.
“It is a sport created by Europeans, it was imported here. We discovered pigeon racing through the internet. But before we use to be pigeon breeders only,” Gueye says.
Though more popular across the continent, it is a growing sport in the West African country.
Today, there are some 350 pigeon racing enthusiasts in Senegal, who spend a lot of money. A pigeon can cost over 800 US dollars in the country.
“Currently I’m doing business with pigeons. I’ve earned several million CFA francs selling pigeons, I even bought a car through those pigeons,” he says.
“But the most important thing for me is the passion.
“It’s exciting to have pigeons, when you start participating in races, releasing a pigeon 400 km from its loft and it comes back, that’s something you can’t explain, it’s great!”
Pigeon racing has clearly taken flight in Senegal and continues to spread its wings.
Senegalese pigeon-racing enthusiasts are keen to turn others on to the sport, and some hope to ultimately turn professional.
But breeder and pigeon racer Oumar Johnson says some people take their dedication too far.
“When you’re too busy with pigeons, things risk going badly,” he says, adding that the pigeon-fanciers’ federation is considering less time-consuming races for youngsters.
Young people are nonetheless the future of the sport, Johnson says, adding that their devotion will make Senegal “one of the greatest pigeon-racing nations” one day.
“In Europe, you have to motivate young people to get involved,” he says.
“Here, young people are rushing into it.”