Wednesday, January 09, 2008

Eagle to patrol Italian airport

The airport operator in the southern Italian port city of Bari has recruited a golden eagle to help keep the runway free of wildlife.

In the past few months there have been several occasions when the control tower has closed the runway because foxes were hunting dangerously close.

But now they have turned to one of the world's prodigious hunters.

The symbol of the mighty Roman legions has become a new standard - in environmental pest control.

At dawn and dusk Bari's airport fields are a rich hunting ground for mice and rabbits.

But now there is a new and rather imposing shadow descending over the airfield, and one that terrifies foxes.

Cheyenne, a six-month-old golden eagle reared in Germany, has a 2m (6ft) wing span, and can lift 18kg (40lb) - almost three times her body weight.

The airport operator is hoping she will spread enough fear to ensure the foxes stay the right side of the perimeter fence, particularly when their cubs arrive in a few months' time.

Bari caters for almost two million passengers a year, so closing the runway can prove extremely expensive.

In the US, they have used ultrasound, poison and traps but this is thought to be the first time an airport has turned to such a sizeable bird of prey.

Though at $15,000 (£7,500) a bird, some airports might consider it an expensive luxury.

Training is almost over and the first test flight is expected in a week's time.

From then on, Cheyenne will be left to get to grips with her new job.

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