China’s secret weapon: Military primates
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China’s secret weapon: Military primates

These days there is no shortage of information concerning China’s growing military power. Just to mention a few relevant facts: Beijing has recently unveiled its first aircraft carrier – which will be followed by others – and in 2011 the military tested a new stealth fighter jet, while national military spending increases at double digit rates every year. But all this pales compared to the piece of news that thundered out of Chinese media on Monday, when it was announced that the People’s Liberation Army has developed a most agile, fast and fearsome group of special forces. They are macaques.

On May 5, the Chinese Air Force revealed that an unspecified military base ‘close to Beijing’ has trained primates to locate and eliminate migratory birds’ nest, which, along with Japanese resurgent nationalism and American imperialism, give generals sleepless nights.

Migratory birds constitute a serious problem for any aviation center, in or out of the People’s Republic. According to the US Federal Aviation Administration, in 2012 the number of wildlife strikes reported in the United States reached a record number of 10,726. The same study says that over the past 23 years an average of one aircraft a day has been forced to land due to collisions, for a total damage of over $700 million every year (plus, presumably, tons of dead animals.)

For the Chinese military the situation is dire. According to Su Chuang, head of the bird control team at the unidentified airbase, the airfield in question “is located along one of the eight flyways, the East Asian-Australasian Flyway, so large numbers of migrating birds come here around March every year and begin nesting near the airport, which creates significant safety hazards for flight.” The very premise says something about the gutsy nature of the enemies: even Beijing’s notorious smog won’t force them to alter their route.

How to get rid of these pestiferous beasts? The military experimented with various tactics, including sending personnel on search and destroy operations up on the branches. Everything failed, and according to a soldier quoted by the People’s Daily, while the nests have to be removed, “shooting or knocking them down with bamboo sticks is inefficient.”

Hence the idea to resort to monkeys, which have the agility and the intelligence required to eliminate the birds’ homes once and for all. That, says China News Service (CNS), would be done by shaking the limb supporting the nest to make it drop from the tree.

The macaques have done a good job so far, only two of them have removed 180 nests in the past month. And, besides the obvious advantages of a PLA monkey versus a PLA soldier in climbing trees, macaques have an extra perk in the war on birds: their smell prevents birds from attempting to build their nests in the spots which have been cleared. Wang Yuejian, commander of the airbase, told media that “birds from the same species will never build their nests at the same place where our monkeys remove them because our ‘demolisher’ will leave its smell on the tree, which is sensed by the birds as a threat.”