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Bird drone spying on African countries? No, video shows ‘flying pterodactyl’ toy

IN SHORT: Several social media posts claim that there are sophisticated drones “developed by the French” to spy on some African countries. That's not true, the device you see flying in the video is just a toy.

“This is not a bird, if you see it anywhere around you, PLEASE be kind enough to shoot it down by ‘ALL’ means possible and available to you...” That’s the start of a common caption for a video circulating on social media in January 2024. 

It claims that the not-bird is a sophisticated drone “developed chiefly by the French” to spy on West African countries after the 2023 coup in Niger – and do other harmful things.

The video begins with a man holding a whirring and flapping mechanical device that looks a bit like a bird. He walks onto a field and launches the device into the sky, where it flies around for the rest of the clip.

The caption then claims that the bird drone detects mineral deposits in African countries. Some versions say it’s also used by Boko Haram and other violent groups active in northeastern Nigeria.

These posts claim that the drone is “sent to fly over, scan and see into the villages where population is substantial, so that Boko Haram, Bandits or kidnappers will strike and kill and maim”.

But the device in the video does none of these things. It’s just a toy.


Birds aren’t real?

Africa Check took screenshots of frames from the first few seconds of the video that show the toy up close. We ran these through a reverse image search.

This led us to several adverts for “the flying pterodactyl”, a remote-controlled toy made by PaulG Toys in the US.

Pterodactyls were a group of flying reptiles that became extinct about 66 million years ago. They were not birds.

Popular artists’ impressions of what pterodactyls might have looked like show them with a bony crest on the back of their heads and no feathers. The toy in the video has the same features.

PaulG Toys’ flying pterodactyl comes in many colour combinations. The toy in the video looks like its red version, with a yellow beak, red crest, red and black plastic wings and webbed feet.

YouTube videos of the toy show it flapping around in the same way as the alleged spy drone.

If someone were to design a fake bird drone, they'd probably make it look like a living bird, not an extinct pterodactyl.

The video’s captions echo “birds aren’t real”, a movement that satirises conspiracy theories with the consciously absurd claim that all birds are actually US government spy drones.

Birds are real, of course. And the toy in the video isn't spying on African countries.

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