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Switzerland’s Army Disbands Carrier Pigeon Service

July 3, 1996 GMT

BERN, Switzerland (AP) _ The Swiss army sent its carrier pigeons on a final mission Wednesday: retirement.

Hoping to save money and adopt more modern communication methods, Switzerland decided last year to dispatch the pigeons to civilian life.

A pro-pigeon group objected, and gathered 100,000 signatures in an effort to enshrine the carrier pigeon service permanently in the Swiss constitution.

The military and the bird lovers compromised. The pigeons will take up a new roost at a military post near the Swiss capital of Bern, cared for by a new foundation.

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Although the Alpine nation has not fought a war in more than four centuries, military traditions are deeply rooted and changes are fiercely resisted.

The mounted cavalry was disbanded in 1973, but only after a national uproar. The 5,000-man bicycle unit gave a new seven-speed mountain bike a cool reception after it replaced an unwieldy 90-year-old model.

Pigeons were widely used to carry messages in World War I and World War II. The Swiss army carrier pigeon service appeared to be the only one left in the world.

The Defense Ministry hopes to save $476,000 a year by pensioning off the birds and concentrating on radio and electronic communication.

The army owned 7,000 birds. There were another 23,000 privately owned pigeons on standby in case of national emergency.