A racing pigeon was just sold at auction for a record $1.9 million

A racing pigeon was just sold at auction for a record $1.9 million

November 16, 2020
  • Belgian racing pigeon New Kim sold for a record-breaking $1.9 million at auction, the AP reports.
  • New Kim was bought by an anonymous Chinese buyer, who the AP reports is said to have also bought Armando, the previous record-setter.
  • Belgian specialization in pigeon breeding has dovetailed with an expensive hobby for the Chinese ultrawealthy, with millions at stake for the fastest flight.
  • Visit Business Insider's homepage for more stories.

The pigeon-racing industry has soared to new heights with a record-breaking sale.

Belgian racing pigeon New Kim sold for $1.9 million on Sunday after a two-week auction at Belgium's Pipa pigeon center, the Associated Press reports. The deal took flight from New Kim's original starting price of 200 euros (around $236).

Kurt Van de Wouwer, part of the breeding family that owned New Kim, told Reuters: "The only thing I can see is we are in total shock."

The bidding was jacked up by two anonymous Chinese bidders. Per AP, "Super Duper" and "Hitman" raised New Kim's price by $325,000 during a just a half hour of bidding. 

Super Duper ultimately flew away with the hen, who is expected to be used to breed more chicks for the pigeon-racing scene that has become popular with China's ultrawealthy.

Pipa did not immediately respond to Business Insider's request for comment.

Per AP, Super Duper is said to be the same Chinese industrialist who bought Armando, another pigeon, for $1.4 million in 2019 — a sale whose record New Kim just broke. The two pigeons could be bred together, creating something of a racing-pigeon power couple. Kim only raced in 2018, according to Reuters, and is 2 years old.

The rise of racing among (China's) wealthy

As Business Insider previously reported, pigeon racing first began as a working-class sport after World War One. During the war, pigeons helped carry urgent messages (and even medication). Post-war, their races became an affordable leisure activity.

But the sport has risen in popularity – and prestige — in China in recent years. Bidders have spent millions on birds (mostly from Belgium, where breeders have come to specialize in pigeons over generations), and the prize pots can number in the millions. The birds have also become something of a status symbol for those who rule the racing roost.

Sun Yan — deputy general-secretary of the Beijing Changping District Racing Pigeons Association — told CNN's Karoline Kan in April 2019 that China has become the "hottest" place for pigeon racing. He said that there are about 100,000 pigeon breeders in Beijing alone. 

"Beijing's pigeon races are the most professional ones in China," Sun told CNN. He added that, while Europe is "the birthplace" for the modern iteration of the sport, "China has become the hottest place for pigeon racing, with the most money flowing in. With money, nothing is impossible."

Per CNN, wealthy pigeon owners will enter as many birds as they can in a race, making it more likely for them to win a prize. The sport has also had its own cheating scandal; two racers incurred fraud charges after hiding pigeons in milk cartons and taking them on a bullet train to clinch the race.

Regardless, the sale of New Kim marks an unflappable new moment for pigeon racing.

"These record prices are unbelievable, because this is a female. Armando was a male. Usually a male is worth more than a female because it can produce more offspring," Pipa CEO and founder Nikolaas Gyselbrecht told Reuters.

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