A pigeon suspected of spying for China was released from captivity this week after Indian officials had detained it, according to PETA India. The animal welfare organization intervened after hearing that the pigeon had been held at an animal hospital for eight months.
India’s RCF Police Station in Mumbai found the pigeon in May 2023, according to PETA. The bird had writing on its wings, but the message was illegible. Authorities suspected it was being used for spying.
The pigeon was sent to Bai Sakarbai Dinshaw Petit Hospital for Animals to be examined medically and investigated.
Months later, the animal hospital asked police if they could release the bird, since the bird was healthy and was taking up a cage at the hospital.
PETA India intervened when officials failed to provide an appropriate response. The police department eventually told the hospital they could release the bird.
In 2011, an Indian court ruled birds have a fundamental right to live free in the open sky, according to PETA. Caging birds in the country is not allowed following a 2015 order.
A pigeon was detained on suspicion of spying in 2015 when a 14-year-old boy in Manwal, India, near the border with Pakistan, noticed there was a stamped message on its feathers written in Urdu, a language spoken in Pakistan, according to Indian news agency UPI. The bird also had the seal of Pakistani district and police conducted an X-ray on the bird.
“Nothing adverse has been found, but we have kept the bird in our custody,” Police Superintendent Rakesh Kaushal told The Times of India at the time. “This is a rare instance of a bird from Pakistan being spotted here. We have caught a few spies here.”
China allegedly runs a pigeon military unit at its Guilin Joint Logistics Support Center in Kunming, Yunnan province, according to reports from Radio Free Asia, a U.S. government-funded radio station.
Militaries have previously used pigeons to carry out operations. During World War I, more than 100,000 pigeons flew missions as part of the U.S. Army Signal Corps in France. One famous pigeon, Cher Ami, was used to delivered 12 messages in Verdun, France during the war, but he was shot and killed in 1918, according to the Smithsonian Magazine. His last message delivery helped save 194 troops.
The British military deployed about 250,000 pigeons during World War II.