IN SHORT: Photos are circulating on Facebook in South Africa with the claim they show pigeons caught carrying drugs in New York City in the United States. But the photos actually show separate incidents in Costa Rica and Kuwait.
A post with four images of birds attached is circulating on Facebook in South Africa in January 2023 and makes a bold claim. It claims to show pigeons caught in New York City in the US carrying "illicit substances" or drugs.
In the images, small bags filled with what look like tablets are attached to a bird’s back or chest.
Responses to the post range from humour to doubt, with one user asking: "Ok, how come the papers on the background are not written in English but a different language, if it's in New York?"
Another user commented that in the past birds were used to carry letters, sometimes called pigeon post, so "they just use the same knowledge from the ancient days" to now deliver drugs.
The post has been shared over 500 times and some of the images have even made global headlines, here and here.
But do these photos show a pigeon drug bust in New York City?
Here’s what the results of a reverse image search show.
Images from different places, different events
The first step we took in verifying the claim was to do a reverse image search of each of the four images, using the Fake news debunker by InVID & WeVerify tool.
The tool allows you to run a reverse image search across several search engines at the same time.
The search results led us to where else the images had appeared online and revealed that variations of the claim have been debunked by news agency Reuters and USA Today.
Both publications spoke to spokespeople from the New York police who refuted the claim that the images showed a drug bust in the city.
The reverse image search results also show media reports from as early as 2015 linking two of the four images to an incident in Costa Rica, a country in Central America, where a pigeon was caught with a bag of drugs in a prison.
The two remaining images appear in a 2017 BBC article which explains that the photos were taken in Kuwait, a country on the Arabian Peninsula, where customs officials caught a pigeon carrying drugs.
These photos don’t show pigeons caught with drugs in New York City in the US. But the gist of the story is true – these birds were roped into doing not one but several drug dealers’ or smugglers’ dirty work.
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