Feature: Raising pigeons on rooftop remains unique hobby, business in Egypt

by Mahmoud Fouly

CAIRO, Feb. 4 (Xinhua) -- When walking around the Egyptian capital of Cairo, it is hard to ignore the scaffold-like wooden structures perching on top of some buildings, as they have altered the skyline of the most populous city in the Arab world.

These are the pigeon lofts, the rickety wood homes for Cairenes' beloved birds.

Pigeon breeding has been a long tradition in the Middle East, especially in Egypt. Some ancient Egyptian reliefs depicted flocks of pigeons being released from their cages to fly and then return. For many Egyptians, now it remains both a passion and a business to raise these birds.

Raising pigeons is a way to make living for some Egyptians because the bird has been a delicacy on the local menu for thousands of years. A popular way for the Egyptians to cook the pigeons is to stuff them with a mix of rice, onion, chicken or pigeon liver, and cinnamon.

Despite the recent price hikes in Egypt, which have also affected the pigeon feed, Egyptian pigeon breeders are unlikely to give up their hobby or business.

Ahmed Kamal, an employee at a private company, turns the whole rooftop of his house in the Giza province near Cairo into a big breeding ground for some types of birds, particularly pigeons.

The 48-year-old man said he has been a pigeon breeder for about 35 years.

"I started this hobby when I was 12 or 13. I had the passion but not the experience. But in time, I learned a lot through practice and I gradually started a trade," Kamal told Xinhua on his rooftop.

"The main passion of a fancier is to see his birds flying and returning to him again," the veteran pigeon breeder said.

Kamal, who could tell the age of a pigeon from the growth of wing feathers, noted that he takes all precautions to keep his birds healthy, including keeping his birds in spacious cages with good ventilation.

Most pigeon breeders buy and sell their birds on a special street at Cairo's famous weekly Friday Market, where several stalls display various local and imported breeds, including racing, carrier and fancy pigeons.

Tens of Egyptian pigeon breeders and traders were busy at the crowded pigeon marketplace going back and forth, some of them holding small cages in their hands.

Even though living in the northern coastal province of Alexandria, Megahed El-Barbari, one of the best-known pigeon traders in the market, travels to Cairo every week despite the geographical distance.

"Pigeon fanciers are on the rise. It's an addictive hobby like fishing. But not all pigeon traders are necessarily fanciers. Some just do it for business," El-Barbari explained, noting he's been a pigeon trader for about 25 years.

Another veteran pigeon trader, Hussein Abdullah, said that the rising price of pigeon feed has impacted the local market since last year, forcing some Egyptian pigeon sellers to lower prices to promote sales.

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