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Dead medium: the pigeon post; the ostrich post
From: bruces@well.com (Bruce Sterling)

Source(s): World Press Review, August 1998, page 36 "Clippings" section, quoting Ralk Kreuger of Deutsche Press Agentur of Hamburg, and Chris Erasmus of the "East African" newspaper of Nairobi

(((bruces remarks: It's exciting to learn that the French, whose use of pigeons in the Franco-Prussian war is the classic saga of military pigeonry, are still preserving this strategic communications capability. The pigeons of Mount Valerian join the Orissa Pigeon Police Service as fossil media, and I feel confident there must be more pigeons lurking in military dovecotes.

(((The diamond-smuggling pigeons of South Africa are a perennial tale, but the weird allegation that there might be diamond-smuggling ostriches once again ignites my skepticism about the whole notion of birds as the villains in this case.)))

"Pigeon News

"The French army pigeon unit has survived recent cost- cutting drives, Ralf Krueger reports for Deutsche Press Agentur of Hamburg. Unlike Switzerland, which has retired its army pigeons, France is holding on to its cooing soldiers. They remain on standby, ready to fly messages undetected through enemy lines. Carrying on a French military tradition that is said to date to the 8th century, about 160 courier pigeons serve in the French army, occupying lofts at Mount Valerian base near Paris.

"In South Africa, homing pigeons have been linked to the theft of diamonds, Chris Erasmus writes in the 'East African' of Nairobi. Officials of the Alexcor diamond- mining corporation in Alexander Bay, a remote town on South Africa's western coastline, are embroiled in a dispute with local racing-pigeon owners. Mine officials say pigeons are being smuggled into mining areas by workers or visitors and laden with gemstones. The pigeons then fly the gems out of the facility over high-security fences.

"This is not the first case of avian theft from the mines, Erasmus says. A few years ago, an imaginative worker used an ostrich to steal a large number of diamonds. The enterprising thief taught the ostrich to wait outside a particular stretch of electrified, high- security fence by regularly tossing food over the fence. When the thief threw diamonds over, the ostrich gobbled them up and later regurgitated them."

Bruce Sterling (bruces@well.com)