You might have missed it, but a twisted piece of weirdness went down just before New Year’s Eve a few weeks ago.
Apparently, prison guards at the Pacific Institution, a minimum, medium and maximum federal penitentiary in Abbotsford, discovered a pigeon strutting its stuff near the inmate unit yard within the prison walls. Now, when I say pigeon, I don’t mean a “stool pigeon,” a term used to describe a police informer placed inside prison bars whose job is to snitch on bona fide inmates. No, I’m talking about a real pigeon with two legs, a pair of wings, and a feathered tail.
What’s so weird about seeing a bird hopping about in a prison yard, you ask? Nothing really, except this pigeon happened to have a homemade backpack strapped to its body, inside of which were stuffed 30 grams of crystal meth. It’s difficult to estimate the value of the pigeon’s contraband, but if it were sold by the dose on the streets of Vancouver, it could be worth as much as $3,000. That’s not exactly chicken scratch for these narco pigeons turned drug “mules” who have flown the so-called coop.
As it turned out, after a fair bit of chasing around [imagine the Three Stooges], the guards were finally able to corner the pigeon and relieve it of its payload. And for you bird fanciers out there in the reading public, you’ll be happy to know that the offending pigeon, after receiving a severe lecture and having its backpack confiscated, was let fly without any charges being laid.
What this criminal incident demonstrates is just the thin edge of the wedge of how modern high tech is being replaced by an old “technology” that was supposed to have been made obsolete. In the case of smuggling drugs across borders and into prisons, the use of drones had been the method of choice for the last decade or so. However, noise detection methods and newer remote interception strategies employed by law enforcement bodies have severely cut into the business of smuggling by drone.
Enter the pigeon. Scientifically classified as Columba livia, our little pigeon has long been a party to nefarious activities. For centuries now, during times of armed conflict, they were often sent back and forth between battle lines and headquarters as a means of communicating messages and secret codes to participating sides. Their homing instinct, that innate genetic coding which allows the bird, using a combination of smell and magnetoreception (navigation using the Earth’s magnetic fields) to fly up to 1800 kilometres in order to find its original nesting spot.
It’s no small wonder, therefore, that our little cooing dove has been pigeonholed by criminal minds to do the dirty work of transporting narcotics and other illicit substances beyond the watchful eyes of controlling agencies. Here’s the math. Carrier pigeons can carry up to 10 per cent of their body weight when in flight. A 500-gm bird could therefore carry a payload of 50 grams. That could translate to $5,000 worth of cocaine for a single trip!
The recent pigeon hijinks in Abbotsford is a local incident, but this type of smuggling is trending internationally. The first recorded instance of this illegal activity involving homing pigeons flying drugs into penal institutes occurred at several prisons in Russia in 2006. Since then, similar shenanigans have been pulled off in countries as diverse as Costa Rica and Kuwait.
It’s not difficult to understand why the drug lords prefer to use pigeons instead of motorized drones. We have already made mention of the reduction in noise output due to the pigeon’s lack of propeller and motor. Add to this the pleasant aesthetics imparted by the soft cooing sounds accompanied by the gentle flutter of feathered wings, plus the much cheaper start-up and maintenance costs, and you can understand why nine out of 10 narcotic smugglers choose the carrier pigeon for their deliveries.
Mind you, there is that little problem of the mess these pigeons leave behind as they tend to their business. In-transit rest stops, which most commonly take the form of civic statues and national monuments, show definite signs that flocks of carrier pigeons have come to earth for a well-deserved flight intermission as well as a lightening of the proverbial load. According to our London cousin they are known as “flying rats” due to their numbers and odiferous debris.
What puzzles me is what do these pigeons get out of this smuggling business? Certainly, they should be able to cut a better deal for all their hard work and dangerous risk-taking than a handful of birdseed and a thank you very much. Yes, it’s high time these birds of a feather organized themselves.
Why not? If you want to take on the drug cartels and Big Courier like FedEx, UPS and Amazon, you have to have strength in numbers. No more fly-by-night operations and triple shift work, to say nothing about working with the criminal element. Say goodbye to dangerous working conditions and no holiday pay. From now on, it will be “Power to the Pigeons” with a strong pension plan, weekly study sessions and a policy of work to rule. If that isn’t enough, there’s always the threat of mounting a national aerial march on Parliament Hill where tens of thousands of Columba livia members and their affiliates fly in formation, à la Snowbirds or Blue Angels aerobatic teams, to Ottawa to leave their mark on the capital. Alternately, for the right price, they could switch sides, provide crown evidence to CSIS and actually become “stoolies,” the slur that for so long has smudged their reputations.
And why stop at just pigeons? Once UPS (United Pigeon Service) is up and flying, I’m sure that eagles and seagulls will want to get in on the action. Heavy bulk freight operations could be funnelled to the Canada geese wing of the movement.
Let’s not leave out chickens. These free rangers could be responsible for cornering the slower overland routes. What did you think were in those egg cartons anyway? At last we’ll know that the answer to the age old question of “why did the chicken cross the road?” is “to get to the other side of the prison fence.”
Nobody asked me, but drug smuggling could take on a whole new look if our feathered friends flock together and exercise their creative power. Gone will be the days when a single pigeon can be chased around a prison yard, frisked, and then strip-searched. It will be the pigeon who calls the shots.
And when it has done its delivery, it will leave through the front gates on its own little feet and in its own sweet time. And it will take along its reusable backpack too.