Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 50.djvu/385

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THE exhibition at the Trocadero and the dispatches of pigeons recently made at sea have attracted public attention to what may be called columbophilism. They have, moreover, revealed the existence of many flourishing societies that display their activity in the training of hundreds of thousands of pigeons. It is worth while to inquire into the motives which have provoked this enthusiasm concerning these birds.

Messenger pigeons are certainly of great service in time of war as means of communication between different parts of the army and the country when the telegraph lines have been broken. But this does not account for the great extension which has taken place in the last few years in pigeon-training. Belgium, for example, has as many pigeons as all the other European countries put together. Bat in selecting and training the best varieties of pigeons the Belgians have not been actuated solely by considerations of national defense. Their interest in their favorite sport is largely determined by the excitement of gaming, and their Sunday pigeon matches are occasions of much betting. Very few persons think now of utilizing the pigeons for purposes of daily life. They have the telephone, telegraph, and mail; why should they go back to so primitive a method of correspondence? Hence an excuse is devised for relegating the pigeon to the category of luxuries. We hope to show that it is something more important. We believe that relations of every kind would gain much in convenience if the pigeon was employed concurrently with the most improved means of correspondence. This useful messenger might in many cases supplement or even take the place of the post and telegraph. The most elaborate system of telegraph lines can only serve places of a certain degree of importance, and they are not built to effect connections the use of which is not constant or profitable enough to justify the expense of constructing and maintaining them.

Most valuable use has been made of carrier pigeons in the past. The ancient civilized empires of Asia included many perhaps relatively well settled regions infested by robbers and extensive deserts through which well-armed caravans passed but inconveniently and where the most secure means of communication was by means of these birds. The Greeks borrowed the use of pigeons from these nations, and an Eginetan athlete sent home the news of his victory at Olympia by means of one of them. The Romans had a system of optical telegraphy and supplemented it by pigeons. The use of this aërial post became more and more general toward