A mining company from South Africa is using drones to survey land in Western Australia — or it’s trying to, anyway. The company has lost nine drones to the giant wedge-tailed eagles that call the region home.

So far, the eagles have cost the company, Gold Fields, around $100,000. The drones cost $10,000 each and the surveying cameras are another $10,000 — presumably the company has been able to retrieve a few of the downed unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) and salvaged their parts.

Wedge-tailed eagles, also known as eaglehawks, are large birds, with wingspans that can stretch wider than 9 feet. The species is unique among raptors in that there have been numerous instances where eagles have attacked paragliders or hang gliders. Drones, it would seem, are just another man-made intruder.

This struggle is reminiscent of plans to use eagles to take down UAVs in the Netherlands and, potentially, the skies above British prisons. But there’s a very important difference: Those eagles are trained to hunt drones; the wedge-tailed eagles are not.

This picture of an eagle getting ready to attack a drone was taken by a different eagle holding onto the drone.
This picture of an eagle getting ready to attack a drone was taken by a different eagle holding onto the drone.

St. Ives Mine surveyor Rick Steven told the Australasian Institute of Mining and Metallurgy’s Open Pit Operators’ Conference earlier this week about his avian woes. “That [wedge-tailed eagle] is my single biggest problem in the environment where I work for the UX5,” he said, referencing the drone used to conduct the surveys. He added that he was on his 12th UAV thanks to the wedge-tailed eagles’ hunting.

Steven and his team have tried to camouflage their UAVs to avoid eagle attacks, with no success. It turns out that these natural predators don’t have to be trained to hunt drones — apparently they are more than happy to use their powerful beaks and sharp talons on drones without prompting or encouragement from us feeble humans.

The company is trying to make the drones look less like targets to the eagles.
The company is trying to make the drones look less like targets to the eagles.

Photos via ABC, Rick Steven, Getty Images / Paul Kane