Thanks to Mo Costandi for the detailed post on this story, I highly recommend his always excellent blog.
MSNBC: Crow “spy network” to catch Bin Laden
It’s just emerged that as part of the US effort to hunt down Bin Laden, US researchers were given Bin Laden masks and made to run around while crows were trained to recognise them. The original plan being for the army to then release the crows to hunt down the real Bin Laden before presumably returning to the the handlers who would be led to their target. The research is a year old now but the real aim of the project and the fact that Bin Laden masks were used is only now emerging.
It turned out that rather than returning to base and informing the military where the doppelgänger was hiding the crows could only be trained to swarm in and attack the doppelgänger (Marzluff et al, 2009). Leaked photos now demonstrate that Bin Laden got wind of this plan and decided to mask up in the safest way possible, with a mask of Dubbya.
It is perfectly possible that the story that Bin Laden was killed in an AK-47 fire fight in which he used his wife as a human shield is in fact a cover story. Only now are rumours surfacing that Bin Laden was in fact picked to death by a swarm of crows. This would explain the bizarre US decision to dump the body at sea out of sheer embarrassment.
In all seriousness, the amazing finding from this study is that the crows, trained to recognise a mask not only remembered and attacked the mask wearer a whole three years later but somehow transmitted the information to their offspring and the rest of the flock who would also instinctively attack the mask wearer (Marzluff et al, 2009).
A fascinating related Ted-talk
Marzluff, J., Walls, J., Cornell, H., Withey, J., & Craig, D. (2010). Lasting recognition of threatening people by wild American crows Animal Behaviour, 79 (3), 699-707 DOI: 10.1016/j.anbehav.2009.12.022
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