July 1: The news is that a mysterious disease has killed 35 valuable members of the Orissa’s police service. They are all pigeons.
The first of the deaths took place in March in Puri district. Twenty-four more pigeons died soon after, in Cuttack district. They experienced long drowsy spells before dying. The veterinary doctors who examined them said that the mysterious disease could be just the sweltering heat.
Pigeons? In this day and age? Yes, Orissa is the only state in India whose police force still employs pigeons as message carriers. And, for the last 50 years, the messengers have not faltered in their duty even once, says a report in ‘The Indian Express’ newspaper.
The carrier or courier pigeons have been of the greatest help during floods and cyclones. At these times, certain areas are totally cut off from the rest of the state. All communication links also get broken. At such times, the pigeon has flown across wide stretches of water with a message tied to its foot, to communicate the message of government officials. Written on paper, the messages are rolled as cigarettes and put in a cylindrical capsule. Then they are tied to the pigeon’s leg.
The feathered messengers were of great use during the floods of 1982. The coastal areas were totally cut off from the rest of the state. The pigeons ferried messages to and fro.
One would think that the police force would be saddened by the loss of these doughty fliers. The report published only one statement by the Police Superintendent of Cuttack, B.P Das. He said that the pigeon deaths need not cause worry. “The disease had struck only after the breeding programme had ended.” Which means that there will be enough pigeons for the Orissa police to depend upon. Was the official even for a minute thinking about the sad loss of the pigeons, or was he thanking his stars that the numbers of pigeons would still be maintained?