Fewer than a quarter of the pigeons who originally enter the race series complete it.
Prominent barrister Michael Mansfield QC has backed a campaign by PETA against pigeon racing.
Fewer than a quarter of the pigeons who originally enter the South African Million Dollar Pigeon Race (SAMDPR) series complete, according tot he animal charity.
This year only 44 of the 373 pigeons sent to South Africa for the race by British fanciers survived.
If pigeons used for racing are 'winners' they're locked up for life for breeding – as what pigeon racers term 'prisoners'. If they perform poorly, their necks are broken.
Mr Mansfield said: "Any compassionate person would be disgusted by the findings of PETA's new exposé, including the revelation that all eight of the birds sent by the Queen this year perished in quarantine ahead of this smash death race.
"The organisers see pigeons not as the living, feeling beings they are but as mere commodities to exploit for financial gain. If a race involving humans had only a 22 percent survival rate, it would be shut down without question, yet these loyal and intelligent birds are sent to their deaths year after year.
"Pigeon racing is on a par with the barbarity of cockfighting and bear-baiting and should be banned. In the meantime, anyone involved should cut ties with this nasty 'sport' – not because the law requires it but because it's the right thing to do."
During the SAMDPR's quarantine period, stressed birds from all over the world are grouped together in the same loft, with the potential to transmit diseases, including zoonotic ones, to one another.
Those who don't die during this time are forced into long training sessions under the blazing South African sun. Many become disorientated and die from exhaustion, predation, dehydration, or starvation.
The investigation documented extensive cruelty to animals, the casual killing of pigeons deemed unfit, and high death rates, as well as recording admissions by fanciers of apparent financial crimes, including illegal gambling, tax evasion, and money laundering, as well as contravention of environmental laws.
Pigeons have their own culture, mate for life, and are devoted parents, both making crop milk for their babies.
They also pass the 'mirror test', demonstrating self-awareness and intelligence, and have earned more Dickin Medals – animals' Victoria Cross – than any other animal for saving the lives of civilians and members of the armed forces during World War II and in subsequent conflicts.
Brendan Montague is editor of The Ecologist. This article is based on press release from PETA.