pigeons worth more than $500,000 missing
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COUNTY -- On a peaceful ranch at the end of
a quiet country road, David Clausing awoke to
discover someone had stolen 150 of the thoroughbreds
he breeds for world-class racing.
These aren't horses. They are
But these aren't your ordinary
statue-perching pigeons -- they're world-class
homing pigeons whose job is to race and breed
more racers. The missing pigeons are worth between
$500,000 to $1 million, the owners say.
"They are the best in the
world," David's wife, Anna Clausing, said
Friday. "They win races all over the world."
Two of the Clausings' pigeons
were top winners in an annual South African
race, billed the greatest pigeon race in the
world. One, called Never Say Die, won first
place and $200,000 in 2003, and the other, Heidi,
won fourth place and $75,000 in 2004. The Clausings
also have sold "breeders" for up to
The theft of the pigeons appears
to have been a well-thought out operation, Anna
said. Whoever released the birds was able to
get onto the ranch and do it very quickly.
Anna said that her husband went
out between 7 a.m. and 7:30 a.m. Friday to take
some birds to a Sarasota veterinarian. They
were to be examined before Clausing shipped
them to a South African buyer who planned to
breed them. But when he entered the stalls,
David discovered 60 empty breeding cages.
"The doors were open and
the birds were gone," Anna said.
She said she had arrived home
between 2 a.m. and 3 a.m. that morning from
her job at the Wal-Mart Distribution Center
in south DeSoto County. Normally, her dogs come
out to greet her, chasing her car along the
road from the entrance gate to where she parks.
But they didn't come out to her that night.
The Clausings suspect the dogs may have been
drugged or the thieves brought meat to draw
the dogs away from the house and stalls.
Anna then went in and woke up
her husband, who had to make a call to South
Africa race officials. The couple didn't get
to sleep until nearly 4 a.m.
One small piece of good news
for the Clausings is that several "key
birds" with important racing bloodlines
were still in their cages. The Clausings said
they think Anna's arrival home may have interrupted
the possible thief or thieves, who might have
been planning to take all of the family's hundreds
Anna explained that the missing
pigeons were used exclusively for breeding and
had been in breeding cages from the time they
were born, so even if they escaped, they wouldn't
know where to fly back. Some of the birds had
been sitting on babies, which were cold when
the Clausings found them. Luckily, the Clausings
were able to incubate the baby pigeons and they
now have other parents raising them, so they
It will take a much longer time
for David Clausing to recover from this setback,
"My husband spent 20 years
of his life developing this and in a matter
of hours it's gone," Anna said. If the
birds are not recovered, some of the Clausing's
unique bloodlines will become extinct, she said.
More importantly, David has lost thousands of
dollars in potential money from the sale of
these missing pigeons and their progeny.
She said that word of the birds'
disappearance has spread fast in the pigeon
racing world. The family received calls throughout
Friday from pigeon fanciers from as far away
as Michigan and South Africa. (David Clausing
did not want to talk to the press because he
was spending the day networking with other breeders.)
The Clausings said they did
not suspect any local pigeon fanciers played
a role in the birds' disappearance, but said
the birds likely will be used to breed or they
may be exported out of the country and sold.
She pointed out they cannot
be used in races because they have identifying
bands on their legs, which David has used to
carefully inventory every bird and track each
one's bloodline. He was able to use this extensive,
detailed inventory to count each bird Friday
and determine which ones were missing.
Fortunately, the Clausings had
already shipped to Africa the birds that will
race in this year's Sun City Million Dollar
Pigeon Race. They've been there since May, when
they were babies, and have been training ever
since for the race on Feb. 4, 2006.
a chance to win more than $1 million in prize
money and a new vehicle, this is a high-stakes
competition. Begun in 1995 and sanctioned by South
African Homing Union, the Belgium press has called
the race the "Tour de France" of pigeon
racing, according to the race's Web site, www.scmdpr.com.
Training flights started in
October and continue through January, with the
final race on Feb. 4, 2006. Electronic rings
are used to track the birds.
Homing pigeons must be trained
to come back to certain areas -- they don't
know how to do it automatically.
Clausings said they are considering offering
a substantial reward for the return of their
pigeons. Anyone with information should e-mail
email@example.com or call the DeSoto County
Sheriff's Office at (863) 993-4700 or (941)
by: Ray Delaney