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Expert who usually handles birds, raccoons, hogs tasked with capturing monkey at SA airport

SA airport 1 of 4 in nation with a full-time wildlife biologist

SAN ANTONIO – It was a first, even for the experts. 

Monday's monkey escape at the San Antonio International Airport was one crazy workday for the airport's wildlife biologist.

San Antonio is one of only four airports in the country that employs a biologist full-time. That person has to be ready for whatever may happen, including a loose monkey in the baggage handling area.

Dawkins, a rhesus macaque monkey, escaped a malfunctioning crate when it was being unloaded from a plane and was loose for about an hour, but a team of experts was able to catch it safely.

"It was really a lucky situation he was right here. Because if it had been anywhere else, we'd have been in a different area. Could have been in the airfield," said Marcus Machemehl, the San Antonio International Airport's wildlife biologist.

Machemehl's job is to keep animals away from areas in the airport where they could interfere with planes and people.

"I try to make the airport as unattractive to wildlife as I can. We have certain types of plants that we plant. We don't plant trees at airports," he said.

Machemehl typically deals with birds, raccoons, hogs and deer.

"Mainly on the air field, I don't ever want to see more than a couple birds at a time. If you start seeing 30, 40 big flocks, your risk tremendously jumps," he said.

Even just one large bird of prey causes big safety concerns. That's when the traps have to come out.

Machemehl handles a large hawk trap he built himself, placed in a grassy area of the air field. First, smaller animals are placed at the bottom of the cage, safe from harm but used as bait. If a hawk or owl lands and perches on a piece of wood, the cage shuts over them.

Every animal caught on airport property is safely relocated. 

"It's always humane, for sure. They want to live here, too. We just have to figure out a way to interact," Machemehl said.

Machemehl's wide range of knowledge enables him to understand the animals and handle them with greater care. Along with plane safety, this is one of the reasons San Antonio feels it's necessary to have one on staff full-time.


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