Homing pigeons (aka Carrier pigeons) were used to deliver messages across long distances for hundreds of years. While our modern-day postal service, telephones, text and internet messaging have taken away the need for pigeons to deliver messages, their skills are still being put to use. Unfortunately, that use is not exactly a noble one.
Around the world, pigeons are being used to smuggle drugs.
Pigeon in Kuwait Caught with a Backpack Full of Drugs
In May of 2017, customs officials in Kuwait found and captured a pigeon that had a small felt backpack strapped to its back. Inside the small pack were 178 white pills. These pills were believed to be ketamine, an anesthetic used illegally as a party drug. The pigeon was caught near the border with Iraq. (1)
Kuwait officials had known for quite some time that pigeons were being used to smuggle illicit substances, however, this was their first time successfully capturing one of the little smugglers. (1)
Other Instances of Pigeon Smuggling
This is not an isolated incident. Pigeons have been used around the world to smuggle high-value, light-weight illegal narcotics into prisons and across borders. Pigeons have been caught in Costa Rica, Columbia, Buenos Aires, Argentina, Mexico, and the United States. (1)
How Pigeons Smuggle Drugs
Though pigeons often appear to be unintelligent, the reality is they have incredible navigational skills. Their ability to find their way back home is something that has baffled scientists for quite some time. There are a few theories as to how the birds do this, even from thousands of kilometers away:
- They memorize a pattern
Using landmarks, over anywhere from five to ten trips, a pigeon will memorize the optimal pattern home. (2)
- They use the position of the sun
If the sun is out, they can use their position relative to the sun’s position to navigate back to their nests. (2)
- Their sense of smell
They know by smell where their home is, so they can follow scent and wind patterns to find their way back. (2)
- With low-frequency sound waves
Pigeons can hear frequencies far lower than humans can. This includes the 0.1 hertz sound waves that are emitted by the earth itself. They create acoustic maps of their surroundings and follow that map home. (3)
All of this, of course, is still only speculation. Pigeons can be trained to follow a specific route in order to drop off messages, or in today’s world, packages of drugs. This is not a fool-proof method, however, as while pigeons usually find their way home, they can still get lost, as well as predators and other risks can prevent them from reaching their final destination.