Austrian troops ordered into action to stop a colony of storks from forcing the closure of an air show have been banned from using their guns – and told to stare at the birds instead.
The soldiers were ordered in after experts had failed using a variety of other methods to drive away the 25 white storks from one of Europe’s biggest flying events at a military airport in Zeltweg, Styria.
Airpower 2011 officials have been warned that the storks are large enough to bring down an aeroplane if they are sucked into the jets’ engines or smash into their cockpits when the event takes place on 1 and 2 July.
Organisers have tried to lure them away with bait, by creating better feeding grounds further away and even putting up plastic storks to make it seem more attractive elsewhere.
But the defence ministry which is organising the 4 million Euro event together with energy drink Red Bull ended up in hot water when an official said they would consider shooting the birds if there was a danger “as a last resort”.
The defence ministry claimed the statement had been a bad joke, and when questioned about what the soldiers would be doing said soldiers had been ordered to stare at them instead.
And local environmentalist Siegfried Prinz who is helping to organise the troops for “operation stork” confirmed it was no joke.
He said: “The troops have been observing the area and finding out where the storks seems to like to go to feed – they then turn up and engage them in eye contact.”
He said this unsettled the birds which then flew away to other areas – and added that the policy seemed to be working.
He added: “The policy is unsettling them and they have started to move away just in time. Being stared at actually intimidates the storks more than the sound of a gun or other explosive device.”
A total of 24 soldiers are working on operation stork between five a.m. in the morning and 10 o’clock at night.
Air traffic safety experts plan to assess more carefully its effectiveness on Wednesday when they will see whether the storks have indeed moved further away from the airfield – and will then give the green light for the event to take place.