Hundreds of vultures have swarmed the airport of the biggest city in Peru’s Amazon jungle, putting planes at risk and threatening to cut off the city of more than 400,000 people from the rest of the country.
The birds already have forced the airport in Iquitos — a popular tourist destination that can only be reached from the capital Lima by air — to shut down eight hours a day, said Aurelio Crovetto, head of Peru’s state-run airport authority.
“One of these birds only has to bump into a plane and the effect could be devastating,” he said. “If one gets into an engine, it will destroy it, the motor will stop and the plane will come down.”
Set on the banks of an Amazon River tributary, Iquitos is one of the world’s largest cities inaccessible by road.
The vultures became a problem when migration swelled Iquitos’ population and extra trash pushed the edge of a garbage dump, which attract the birds, closer to the airport.
The vultures have collided with planes at least 19 times since 2002, according to the airport authority. Photographs show engine parts and wing flaps mangled by avian encounters.
The airport authority blames local officials, whom they say have ignored nearly a decade of complaints about the dump. But the city’s mayor says airport operators should be better equipped to scare away the vultures.
Peru’s commerce and tourism minister has referred to the situation as “surreal” and promised action.