A shortage of show pigeons in Kuwait -- the result of occupation by hungry Iraqis -- has turned into a bonanza for local bird breeders.
Several Persian Gulf dealers have been buying thousands of show pigeons here and shipping them back to the Persian Gulf to restock breeders there.
"I've started to buy and send them back to help the guys restock what they lost," said Ebrahim Shaji, a Bahraini student in Philadelphia who has shipped home about 2,000 birds since the end of the war a year ago.
Show birds, particularly pigeons, are a passion in Kuwait, where dogs and cats are rarely kept as pets. But invading Iraqi soldiers, short of food, ate many of the birds. Other birds starved to death. Iraqi soldiers also ate many of the animals at the Kuwait zoo.
The replacement pigeons cost $20 or $25 here. In Kuwait, buyers are paying hundreds of dollars for each bird. A pair of cream-colored gazzis can bring as much as $1,000, Shaji said.
"These fellows are over here paying a lot of money for pigeons," said Henry A. Jaeger, a Towson pigeon breeder. "They've evidently got a lot of money."
Jaeger sold about 30 pigeons to a Kuwaiti middleman. The Kuwaiti was very generous but wanted only certain colors -- no black birds, Jaeger said.
Marvin Angle, a breeder in New Freedom, Pa., just north of Baltimore County, has sold about 300 birds to be shipped to Kuwait.
While some breeders here have been getting $100 a bird, Angle said he has been keeping his prices down as a professional courtesy to Kuwaiti dealers.
"They're getting a break," Angle said. "We're trying to get them started. I've always done that to anybody. I figure if you treat 'em right the first time, they'll be back."
Bird breeding seems to turn into a lifetime passion. Jaeger, 76, learned about the birds from his father and has bred them most of his life.
Shaji, who is 35, has been breeding birds since he was 8.
One of his best customers in Kuwait has been a colonel in the Kuwaiti army who was captured by Iraqi troops and held for several months. "He was a very big pigeon breeder," Shaji said. "He lost all of his birds."
Of course, Shaji said, "He was lucky not to have lost his life. Everything can be replaced but that."