Pigeon suspected of spying for China released in India after PETA intervention, group says

CNNA pigeon suspected of spying for China and held for eight months was released by Indian officials this week after intervention from animal rights organization PETA, the group said in a statement.

“After learning that a pigeon was held at the Bai Sakarbai Dinshaw Petit Hospital for Animals (BSDPHA) in Parel as case property for an astonishing eight months, PETA India sprang into action to secure the bird’s freedom from captivity,” PETA said.

The animal’s ordeal began in May last year, when it was captured near a port in Mumbai. There was a message written on the pigeon’s wings in words that appeared to be Chinese, PETA added. “This led to suspicion of spying and caused police to seize the bird, who was sent to Mumbai’s BSDPHA for a medical examination as part of an investigation.”

CNN has reached out to Mumbai police for comment.

Another pigeon was reportedly taken into custody in 2016 after authorities found it with a note that threatened Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi.

In the most recent case, PETA contacted police in Mumbai “without further delay… to grant formal permission for the hospital to release the pigeon.”

“The bird was released yesterday on the hospital premises by Colonel (Retd) Dr B. B. Kulkarni, Chief Medical Superintendent of the BSDPHA,” PETA said.

Earlier Indian media reports had said that the bird had been transferred to the Bombay Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals, whose doctors set it free on Tuesday. CNN has reached out to Bombay SPCA for comment.

While the pigeon’s case has made global headlines, “spy animals” captured and exploited by militaries are nothing new.

In 2019, a snowy white beluga whale, later nicknamed Hvaldimir, shot to international fame after it was spotted wearing a specially made harness with mounts for a camera, leading experts to suggest the whale may have been trained by the Russian military.

Belugas are social animals that hunt and travel together in pods. Hvaldimir the whale was found alone, and has been known to follow boats and play with those on board.

He resurfaced in Swedish waters in 2023 and there have been concerns expressed by animal rights activists and marine experts about his fate.