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Suspected Chinese ‘spy pigeon’ finally released into wild by India after months in detention

A suspected “Chinese spy pigeon” was finally released by Indian authorities into the wild after eight months in detention.

The pigeon was captured by the Mumbai police in May near a port last year where it was found with two rings on its legs and a message that appeared to be written in a Chinese language.

Investigations by local police found that the pigeon was actually an open-water racing bird from Taiwan that had lost its way and accidentally ended up in India.

The pigeon was then sent to Mumbai’s Bai Sakarbai Dinshaw Petit Hospital for animals.

Upon clarification of its origins as a racing pigeon, it was handed over to the Bombay Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals and subsequently released.

This is not the first case of birds being suspected of espionage in India. In 2020, Indian authorities released a pigeon [captured in Kashmir] belonging to a Pakistani fisherman after it was confirmed that the pigeon was not a spy.

In villages along the border, pigeon racing is a popular sport, with participants using stamps, paint, and rings on the birds’ feet for identification. There have been many cases where these pigeons, originating from either side, end up straying across the border.

In 2016, India’s Border Security Force officers detained a pigeon in Pathankot, Punjab, an area previously targeted by militants, after discovering it carrying a note in Urdu threatening Indian prime minister Narendra Modi.

In 2015, Indian authorities apprehended a pigeon under the suspicion that it was employed by Pakistan for espionage purposes, going so far as to X-ray the bird in search of a spy camera, transmitter, or concealed chip.

In 2013, Indian security personnel discovered a dead falcon equipped with a miniature camera and, in 2010, another pigeon was taken into custody due to concerns over espionage.

Meanwhile, in 2018, it was reported that China launched a “spy bird” drone to boost government surveillance. The so-called “spy bird” programme, first reported by the South China Morning Post, was already in operation in at least five provinces. The dove-like drones, the report said, were developed by researchers at Northwestern Polytechnical University in the Shaanxi province, who had previously worked on stealth fighter jets used by China’s airforce.

Additional reporting with agencies