In its fight to prevent future terrorist attacks on its soil, France has found an unlikely ally: the royal eagle.
The French Air Force is currently training birds of prey to take down remote-controlled objects following reports that ISIS recruits are weaponizing consumer markets drones to carry out attacks against enemy fighters.
The air force first acquired four royal eagles eggs last spring and began training them in a base in south west France after they reached adult size.
The birds were placed on top of drones when they were still in their eggshells and kept there during the early stages of feeding. Once they were fit to fly, the royal eagles were taken to a field to be trained to intercept airborne drones. The birds, which are able to grab and carry animals as heavy as goats and lambs, were in turn rewarded with meat.
“These eagles can spot the drones several thousand meters (yards) away and neutralize them,” Jean-Christophe Zimmerman, a French Air Force general, told Reuters.
Considered more robust than other birds like falcons, eagles also present a great advantage: they are seen as safer than using guns or nets to take down drones during events with large crowds, such as public ceremonies, festivals or fireworks.
“In certain situations (falling debris, a crowd under the craft), the drone cannot be shot down,” an air force spokesman told L’Express magazine. “The eagle, along with other means, can enable us to intercept the craft without causing any further damage.”
Rogue or poorly controlled drones have been branded “a credible threat for a terrorist mode of action on our national territory just as they do for external operations” by French security officials, particularly after the wave of terrorist attacks that shook France over the past two years.
Last spring, dozens of mystery drones were spotted flying over the Eiffel Tower, the US embassy, the Elysée Palace and other famous landmarks in central Paris, but also over military installations and nuclear plants, prompting fears that the machines were being used as spying technology.
France is not the only country using eagles to capture drones. The practice is also common in Holland.