Border collies take on birds at the airport

Published May 29, 2001


Specially trained border collies could be a familiar sight at Durban international airport and at other airports countrywide in the attempt to reduce the danger of aircraft accidents caused by birds.

Durban had been singled out as having the worst problem with birds on runways in the country and would be the first to be considered in the project using dogs to scare the birds away, said Albert Froneman, the Airports Company of South Africa's manager in charge of reducing bird strikes.

It is estimated that bird strikes cost the industry at least R3-million last year.

Though significant progress had been made in reducing certain bird species, such as plovers and hadeda ibis, on South African airfields through habitat management, some species, such as blackheaded herons, still posed a hazard.

It had, however, been more than six months since there had been a bird strike in Durban. "We have had to look at alternative methods to control these birds . . . and one such option is the use of border collies," said Froneman.

Dog handler/trainer Nicholas Carter and border collie Shadow demonstrated their skills at Durban's international airport on Tuesday.

Carter, of Florida in the United States, is a pioneer in the use of dogs to minimise the threat of bird strikes at major international airports. He is visiting the country's airports to show off Shadow's talents.

Chasing away the potential bird menace would usually take airport fire and rescue teams six hours, but Shadow did the job in 10 minutes.

Following precise instructions from Carter, who used a whistle, Shadow performed its task effortlessly - similar to that of herding sheep. The dog handler remains in contact with the control tower via radio on the status of incoming and outgoing aircraft.

"Border collies are used because they are highly intelligent, adaptable dogs that are able to cope with most species of bird and larger wildlife. They are obsessive, compulsive, silent workaholics and have been trained not to harm," Carter said.

The bird-dog plan is seen as a more environmentally sensitive option compared with destroying birds with poison or gunfire, or scaring them away with shotguns or firecrackers.

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