In Colombo, Sri Lanka, there’s an organized crime cartel that uses an eagle to smuggle and deliver drugs. Lately, this same cartel has expanded its criminal animal syndicate — drafting cats into the drug game. In fact, earlier this month, a common house cat was detained after the cat was caught smuggling heroin into a Sri Lankan prison. Underneath its collar, authorities discovered a plastic bag filled with nearly two grams of smack, two SIM cards and a memory chip. The Sri Lankan police hoped to follow the cat back to the cartel’s lair and score a major bust. But when prison guards attempted to feed the cat, he squeezed past them and made a clean jailbreak, disappearing like a bewhiskered Keyser Söze.
At first blush, it sounds wild that not only did a drug-smuggling cat manage to escape Johnny Law but also that it was, you know, a drug-smuggling cat. To say nothing of the drug-smuggling eagle the Sri Lankan cartels trained to deliver heroin like it’s a raven bringing a secret message to Winterfell. But it’s not. While we used to believe that humans had an exclusive on intelligence, the more science examines the behavior of the other species, we’re finding that they’re far more intelligent — and like us — than we previously estimated.
For instance, crows have been shown to construct complex tools based on the task they aim to accomplish. Prior to this discovery, it was believed that only chimpanzees and humans were capable of such a feat. That list, though, grew even longer when researchers noticed that orangutans on the island of Sumatra have taught each other to use “honey-dippers,” which are more or less dipsticks they use to check logs for hidden pockets of honey. And returning to crows for a moment — their memory is so effective and sharp, they’re known to hold grudges against human beings for years. They will also teach their offspring to hold the same grudge against the same human.
Moreover, in July, new research was published that indicates all mammals have the same amount of connectivity in their brains. While this isn’t the same as saying that they’re as smart as humans, they do have far more potential than previously presumed.
In short, it seems that our arrogance has blinded us to other animals’ intelligence for millennia. Which is why a drug-smuggling cat can get away with its crimes — few would think a cat could be so smart. That would be their mistake.
It’s not a mistake the crime world has made very often, though. If anything, a drug-delivering eagle and drug-smuggling cat are just the tip of the iceberg.
In Brazil, the cartels trained a parrot to act as a lookout for their drug den. Whenever the parrot caught sight of cops approaching, it would squawk, “Mum, the police!,” providing time to dispose of any evidence of criminal activity. Once the favela police figured out the parrot was actually a cartel lookout and not just repeating some learned phrase at random, the cops arrested the bird, too. The parrot, however, wasn’t about to turn snitch. A local Brazilian journalist reported that the previously highly vocal parrot “hasn’t made a sound. It’s completely silent.” And a veterinarian who observed the papagaio do tráfico (translation: drug-trafficking parrot) in police custody told the media that “lots of police officers have come by and he’s said nothing.”
Meanwhile, over in Russia, cats smuggling drugs into prison is old hat. In 2019, a house cat was caught smuggling hashish into a prison in the Russian Republic of Tatarstan. According to reports, the cat belonged to an inmate, who then released it to friends on the outside. The friends starved the cat for a few days, hid some drugs in its collar and let it loose to find its way back to its prisoner owner. The cat, though, aroused the suspicion of the guards and an inspection revealed the hash hidden in its collar.
A year before, at a penitentiary in Tula, a region south of Moscow, another cat was caught smuggling seven grams of hash and meth under its collar. The cat was detained after guards spotted its bulging collar. But in a very Russian twist, when it came time for trial, the criminal cat had been replaced with an impostor. It seems the bureau responsible for keeping the cat safe lost it. This played to the defendants’ benefit, as they called into question not only the prosecution’s attempt at using a replacement cat, but also the whole idea that a cat could ever possibly be involved in such a complicated smuggling operation. The original drug-smuggling cat’s whereabouts remain unknown.
Down in Central America, a pigeon that Costa Rican inmates had trained to move product was apprehended while decked out in a tiny bird-sized, drug-dealer fanny pack. What kind of weight was this pigeon pushing? Try 14 grams of pot and another 14 grams of cocaine. Basically, this bird was carrying enough coke to kill a bandful of rock stars — or just enough to keep Keith Richards busy for a couple hours.
Throughout Southeast Asia, monkeys double as pickpockets. They’ll steal wallets, purses, cellphones, even babies. Then there’s this monkey, who boosted a bike and rode it as his getaway vehicle while a dog tried to prevent his brazen daytime theft:
Criminal animals are often able to outwit us because, again, we tend to think that animals are dumb. Or innocent. Which is dumb, since we’re animals, and we’re far from either. So instead of under-estimating the animal kingdom, we should recognize the monkeys out there living the street game, the house cats pushing weight into Russian prisons and the eagles distributing heroin in the Golden Triangle as the embodiment of the most essential truth about Mother Nature: Fuck around and find out.
If you don’t believe it, just remember the parrot who won’t snitch.