THE FIFTH COLUMN
I’ll be flying to Jo’burg from Cape Town for the first time in a while, leaving a drenched city with level 6B water restrictions for a parched land with none. One of the things I’m looking forward to is experiencing the many technological advances since I’ve last taken to the skies.
A new development that caught my eye online recently was the dogs that are used on the runways at OR Tambo International Airport to chase away birds.
A video on Traveller24 shows the dogs running full tilt, picking up dead birds from the runways and chasing off live ones, with big smiles on their faces like they can’t even believe they’re getting paid to do it.
Another perk includes being driven around on the front seat of a golf cart, allowing face time in the wind for, like, the whole time. I find the video heartening for a myriad reasons, chief of which is the endeavour of the people of Jo’burg to think out of the box.
In Cape Town, we do have dogs but they work with birds on a one-on-one basis — mostly chasing pigeons from food bowls. Of the three Capetonian dogs I know personally, none have been to an airport. In fact, much like their owners, I don’t reckon Capetonian dogs are aware of destinations other than Cape Town.
In lieu of dogs able to run very far, the City of Cape Town enlisted — in true Cape Town fashion — the help of a drone, yes, dressed up as a falcon (the “Robird” is apparently named after a guy named Rob and is not a play on the word robot).
The Robird is the brainchild of a company called Clear Flight Solutions. On their animated video, the airport mercenaries show what appears to be an Egyptian goose breaking into a thousand pixels after getting sucked into a 747’s engine against its will. They go on to explain how, although birds get used to scarecrows, they are too dumb to figure out that a real falcon doesn’t ascend and descend in a vertical line the way a drone-powered one does.
Going by the look on its face, the falcon — compared with the dogs —seems mildly disinterested in its job, going through the motions until its annuity kicks in. In fact, compared with the dogs, Rob’s bird is just another metal object polluting air space. I’d be surprised if Cape Town International didn’t soon have the problem of birds flying into its proxy bird. Then what?
Birds are a menace. I also have a bird problem. It’s not a big problem — about four birds sitting right under my balcony — but severe on a level, I’d say, of a pelican crashing into an SA Express mini-plane. I’ve done many things to chase them away but they seem to have an intelligence far superior to humans.
The birds can, for instance, distinguish between Alanis Morissette’s Jagged Little Pill and a shiny object that’s supposed to blind them. They see rubber snakes for what they are and consider flying rocks a fun game of tag. They are fiercely territorial and they’ve got us all figured out.
My flight to Jozi is leaving under cover of darkness. I find solace in that.