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  Racing pigeon sold for record £260,000
Flying high above Europe's economic crisis, a lightning-fast pigeon named Bolt has become the world's most expensive racing bird after its Belgian breeder sold it for 310,000 (£260,000) to a Chinese businessman.

The price for one-year-old Bolt, named after the Olympic sprint champion Usain Bolt, exceeded the previous record of 250,000, set in January last year.

The full auction of the Leo Heremans coop, 530 birds in all, yielded a world record of 4.3m (£3.6m), more than double the previous record, also set last year.

The auction's success was attributed to a combination of the breeding acumen of the Belgian fancier and the financial clout of Chinese aficionados.

Nikolaas Gyselbrecht, CEO of the auction house Pipa, said: "One of the reasons there is no economic impact is that buyers are spread around the globe. Over 20 countries were bidding last weekend. So if there is a crisis in one country, it might be less so in another."

Nine of the 10 top birds went to China or Taiwan, "and the crisis is a lot less acute there than out here," Gyselbrecht said. On top of that, Heremans is known as perhaps the best pigeon breeder around. "It was pretty clear something special would happen," Gyselbrecht said.

Heremans, 66, decided to auction off his birds after his health deteriorated and he found it increasingly difficult to operate his coop.

Belgium's coop owners are dwindling. Just after the second world war, Belgium's pigeon federation had 250,000 members and the sport was huge.

From generation to generation, breeding secrets were handed over within Belgian families. Bloodlines were essential for performance; Bolt's parents fetched a combined 184,000. But the number of Belgian fanciers has fallen almost tenfold to about 27,000, according to Gyselbrecht.

Even if quantity dwindled, quality did not, he said. "Those who have continued have also become much more professional." And on the other side of the world, interest is booming, partly due to the huge prize money available. China nowadays has 300,000 active pigeon fanciers.

The birds have become so precious that Bolt has had his last race: once in China he will be used for breeding only. "He's had his last competitive flight already," said Gyselbrecht.
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