A pigeon captured by Indian officers in Mumbai and accused of espionage has been freed after eight months in captivity, after it was revealed to be a racing bird from Taiwan
A pigeon has been released back into the wild after enduring eight months in captivity when it was accused of being a Chinese spy by Indian police.
According to Press Trust of India, the bird was detained by officers after it was caught near a port in Mumbai in May 2023. It was reported that the pigeon was found with two rings tied to its legs with words that were apparently in Chinese.
Detectives suspected the pigeon was being used for spying purposes and held it captive. Later, it was sent to Mumbai’s Bai Sakarbai Dinshaw Petit Hospital for Animals.
However, after eight months, it turned out that the pigeon was not conducting espionage. Rather, it was an innocent open-water racing bird from Taiwan that had flown to India.
Once the pigeon was officially cleared of undertaking a role as an agent for a foreign power, it was transferred by police to the Bombay Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals. Staff there then set the bird free on Tuesday.
Pigeons actually have a history of being used espionage and war. They were used during Word War I and Word War II by British forces to deliver messages, with a pigeon called Gustav bringing the first news of D-Day back to the UK. A reporter wrote a report and attached it to the bird while landing on Sword Beach in Normandy on 6 June 1944.
Secrets of Cold War spy-pigeons were also revealed after the CIA declassified sensitive documents. The files from the 1960s and 70s reveal how pigeons were trained for clandestine missions photographing sensitive sites inside the Soviet Union.
The release also reveals how ravens were used to drop bugging devices on window sills and dolphins were trained for underwater missions. The CIA believed animals could fulfil “unique” tasks for the agency’s clandestine operations behind the Iron Curtain at the height of tensions between Russia and the US.
The 1970s’ operation, codenamed Tacana, explored the use of pigeons with tiny cameras strapped to their bodies to automatically take photos, the newly released files show. It took advantage of the fact that the humble pigeon can be dropped somewhere they have never been before and have the amazing ability to find their way hundreds of miles back home.
This wasn’t the first time India has dealt birds with suspicion. In 2020, police captured a bird in Indian-controlled Kashmir that belonged to a Pakistani fisherman. An investigation concluded that the bird was indeed not a spy, but innocently flew across the border of the two countries.
In 2016, another pigeon was detained. Reportedly, it was found with a note that threatened Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi.