A pigeon, suspected of being used by China for espionage, has been released after eight months in police custody in Mumbai, according to local media reports.
The falsely-accused bird was released from the Bai Sakarbai Dinshaw Petit Hospital for Animals on Tuesday, said a police officer in India’s most populous city, as cited by the Press Trust of India (PTI) news agency on Wednesday. Its current whereabouts are unknown.
The pigeon was caught in May, 2023, at a port in the Chembur suburb of Mumbai with two rings tied to its legs featuring words that appeared to be Chinese, which led the police to suspect it was spying for China, PTI reported.
The bird was taken to the animal hospital for custody, until it emerged in January that it was actually an open-water racing pigeon from Taiwan, which had escaped and flown to India, according to the news agency.
This was not the first time a pigeon has been detained by the watchful Indian police force.
In March, 2023, two suspected spy pigeons were caught in the eastern Odisha state. The first one was found on a fishing boat with devices fitted on its leg which appear to be a camera and a microchip. The two birds are believed to still be under investigation.
Back in 2020, police in Indian-controlled Kashmir captured a bird that belonged to a Pakistani fisherman, but later found that it had simply flown across the border, admittedly without permission.
Before that, in 2016, another pigeon was captured after it was found with a note threatening Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi.
Throughout history, pigeons have been used by the militaries in many countries for delivering messages and spying.
China, for instance, allegedly runs a special military pigeon unit at the Guilin Joint Logistics Support Center in Kunming, Yunnan province, according to media reports.
“Today, with all kinds of ways to intercept messages sent by electronic means, terrorists or enemies of a state can use ways that cannot be tapped, such as pigeons,” said Yusuf Unjhawala, an Indian defense analyst as well as a scholar at the Takshashila Institution in Bangalore
“The use of animals for military purposes is an old thing, from horses to elephants to pigeons,” said Unjhawala. “Dolphins can also be used to detect underwater mines.”
A Taiwanese defense expert, Shen Ming-Shih from the Institute for National Defense and Security Research, said racing pigeons have gained such popularity that raising them has become an industry in Taiwan.
“Taiwan also uses racing pigeons to send intelligence or deliver messages, despite the advancement of various communication technologies,” Shen told Radio Free Asia.
Edited by Taejun Kang and Elaine Chan.