A wealthy Chinese pigeon racing fan has put down a world record price of $2.6 million for a Belgian-bred bird.
Three-year-old hen New Kim was the focus of a two-week auction and the final price was reached as the bidding came to an end on Sunday.
During a frantic last half-hour, two Chinese bidders, operating under the pseudonyms of Super Duper and Hitman, drove up the price by $455,796.
The final total left the previous record that Belgian-bred Armando fetched last year well behind by $569,745. Super Duper submitted the winning bid.
Successful breeder Gaston Van de Wouwer retired at 76 and his son had too busy a professional life to continue the famed pigeon coop.
All 445 birds were put on auction and the overall sale was closing in on $8.1 million. A second part of the auction is ending on Monday but did not include any bird that could match New Kim.
Belgians have long stood out as the best breeders, both because of their generations-long experience and the density of a network where many breeders can organise races close together.
“Everybody is interested in our pigeons,” Pascal Bodengien, head of the Belgian pigeon federation, told The Associated Press.
“To be the best, it has to be your life’s work. For some, it may seem boring. Day in, day out. Winter and summer, always those pigeons.”
China often features one-loft racing, where pigeons all get used to one coop for months and then are released many hundreds of miles away to make their way back with their unique sense of orientation and special speed training.