In an era where Telegram is known better as a cloud-based instant messaging service than a telegraph-based mode of communication popular in the years gone by, we can’t blame you if you have never heard of Pigeongram! Yes, that’s the term used for messages sent through a pigeon post service, a practice that now survives only in the communications wing of Odisha Police. The Indian National Trust for Cultural Heritage (INTACH) joined hands with the Odisha Police to organise a flight of carrier pigeons from state capital Bhubaneswar to Cuttack on Saturday.
Explained In 10 Points: What The Pigeon Post Service Is About
- Fifty pigeons carrying messages of preservation and conservation of heritage in cylinders attached to their legs (pigeongrams) were released in flight from the grounds of the Odisha Univeristy of Agricultural Technology (OUAT). They reached Cuttack, their destination about 23 km away, in less than an hour.
- Established in 1946, the Odisha Police pigeon post service is said to be the oldest and the only such official service that is still active in the word. The service has, however, been kept operational mainly for heritage and ceremonial purposes.
- The earliest use of the pigeon post service in Odisha was in a pilot project in Koraput after the police received about 200 pigeons to communicate with remote and inaccessible areas. Communication units and pigeon lofts were then set up at several centres across the state, with Cuttack serving as the headquarters.
- More recently, the service has been used for communicating with areas cut off during floods. The service was also used to good effect during the 1999 super cyclone.
- According to the Communication Wing of Odisha Police, the service currently has 153 pigeons at two centres, the Central Breeding Loft in Cuttack and the Police Training College (PTC) in Angul.
- Traditionally, the pigeon post service has had three categories. 1. Static– A one-way service used during floods and other natural disasters. 2. Boomerang– This is a two-way system used to communicate between police stations in inaccessible areas. 3. Mobile– As the name suggests, this refers to pigeons carried by police units on the move and used to communicate with the headquarters.
- According to Odisha Police, the pigeons they use belong to the same species that were used for spying and delivering messages during World War 2. Homing pigeons were used as military messengers by countries like Britain that dropped them over German-occupied territory in Europe, mostly France and Belgium.
- The pigeons were dropped from aircraft in boxes attached to parachutes. The boxes had a message for sympathisers or informants in case they spotted one, a small cylinder to carry back messages that could be attached to one leg of the bird, and some food for the pigeon. In many cases, these homing pigeons flew back to British cities with critical information about the Germans.
- Pigeons had also been deployed by several countries in World War 1. The use of messenger pigeons dates back to the ancient Romans; Persians, Mongols, and Mughals are also known to be have established similar communication services.
- In the 19thcentury, the news agency Reuters founded by German-born Paul Julius Reuter is said to have used pigeons to fly stock prices between centres before switching over to cable telegraph.