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Tuesday, 9 October, 2001, 14:33 GMT 15:33 UK
Burundi detains feathered 'spy'
(Pic: Avian Demography Unit, UCT)
The tracking device is attached to Saturn's back
By Mohammed Allie in Cape Town

Police in Burundi have arrested a bird suspected of spying.

The South African stork, which had a satellite tracking device attached to its body, was found by villagers after it injured a wing.

The alleged spy is called Saturn and was a member of a flock of five that formed part of a University of Cape Town research programme to monitor the migration patterns of the birds.

The other four birds, which were also fitted with the same devices, died in February after heavy rains in Mozambique.

Crash landing

Saturn apparently crash landed in a village in Muyinga Province in north-eastern Burundi after injuring a wing.

Graphic BBC
Upon closer inspection, local villagers were intrigued by the suspicious looking electronic device strapped to the bird's body.

Understandably, there was great consternation and the bird was immediately handed over to the local police for investigation.

The Burundian police then enlisted the assistance of English-speaking Mary Murphy who lives in the area.

Wing healing

Fortunately, the satellite device had the e-mail address of Professor Les Underhill of the University of Cape Town written on it.

Ms Murphy e-mailed Professor Underhill saying the sick bird, together with its suspicious device, had been taken into custody.

She added that Saturn's right wing was healing and that he was being cared for by the police. There was no mention whether the bird was being held under 24-hour armed guard in the police cells.

Professor Underhill said he understood the police's concerns, especially in today's environment of terror attacks.

"The device looks pretty space age with an aerial and a little solar cell to charge the battery," he said. But he remains hopeful that both the bird and the satellite device will eventually be returned unharmed.

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