Exmoor Zoo uses riot shields against aggressive cranes

Staff at the zoo want to protect themselves from injuries from the pointed beaks of cranes

Riot shields and police officers have been drafted in by staff at a Devon zoo to help them develop defensive tactics against aggressive birds.

The two decommissioned police shields have been sent to to Exmoor Zoo near Barnstaple, so staff can fend off violent cranes.

Curator Danny Reynolds said police were training staff to use the shields.

Staff have been kicked, pecked and hit by wings, especially during the mating season, Mr Reynolds said.

'Very territorial'

"Anti-social behaviour" from the birds, which can grow up to 1.5m (4ft 10ins) tall, has "been on the increase year-on-year", he explained.

The shields were donated by Devon and Cornwall Police after discussions with wildlife crime officer PC Martin Beck.

The commitment of cranes

Two common cranes
  • The common crane (Grus grus) is monogamous. Pairs reinforce their bond with a series of calls and elaborate head jerks
  • Joint responsibility is taken for incubating their eggs during breeding season
  • As they wait for their young to hatch, adults "paint" their upper bodies and wings with reddish mud, which is thought to provide camouflage

Source: BBC Nature

Head keeper Derek Gibson said the zoo had nine out of the world's 15 species of crane, an endangered species.

He explained many were involved in breeding programmes, which was when they tended to be most aggressive as they attempted to keep people or other animals away.

"The most aggressive are the South African paradise cranes, which, come any time, are naturally very territorial," Mr Gibson said.

"Other species are well-known for coming together outside of breeding; but, when they pair off in breeding season [in the spring and early summer], they are highly territorial.

"Keepers have to go in regularly to check eggs, and there's nothing they wouldn't do to protect their eggs and youngsters.

"They are the tallest flying birds with wings up to 8ft wide, with really sharp claws and using wings joints as knuckles, and they come at you at all angles to make you leave."

Mr Gibson said staff had used bin lids in the past, but the idea for the shields came after curator Mr Reynolds saw a television programme showing police riot equipment.

Mr Gibson said: "Danny thought 'that might be a good idea'.

"The shields are easy to manage. They slip on the left arm and leave your right hand free to bring in food, or pick up stuff. And they're clear, so you can see through them.

"It's a very useful tool".

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