Gulf carriers, and those from around the world, routinely land and take off from the Netaji Subhash Chandra Bose airport in Calcutta, capital of India’s West Bengal province.
But unknown to fliers, the airfield is infested with hordes of jackals and all efforts by airport authorities to get rid of them have failed.
The current jackal population at Calcutta airport – named after one of India’s greatest independence leaders – is pegged at 120. The fast-breeding animals are a safety hazard and the federal government’s Airport Authority of India (AAI) is exploring new methods to catch them.
“The probability of a “major accident resulting in deaths and destruction caused by a plane’s collision with a jackal at Calcutta airport is extremely high”, an experienced pilot who didn’t want to be named told Al Arabiya.
“It’s inconceivable that a major international airport hasn’t found a solution to the jackal menace in 10 long years. It’s disgraceful and dangerous’”.
The Times of India newspaper reported in 2016 that an Emirates flight was forced to circle Calcuta airport for a considerable time after the control tower spotted a jackal on the runway which had to be shooed away so that the packed plane from Dubai could land safely. There have been many other instances of flight disruption due to jackals in recent years.
Jackals, known for their stealth and cunning, are cleverly dodging traps set up by forest officials roped in by a desperate AAI to catch the elusive animals. Cameras placed near the traps have captured footage of jackals sizing up the traps and studiously avoiding them displaying incredible survival instincts.
Shooting jackals is out of the question as they are a protected species under the Wildlife Protection Act, 1972. At best they can be caught and rehabilitated in forests.
Calcutta is awash with animal rights activists who have issued an ultimatum to airport authorities to act within the confines of law regardless of the threat jackals pose to aviation safety.
The Zoological Survey of India (ZSI) is partnering AAI to find a solution to the airport´s festering jackal problem. A ZSI official disclosed that jackals sneak into the airport complex by digging burrows outside the boundary walls or fencing which provide a safe passage inside.
And when burrows are detected and sealed, the wily animals dig new ones to silently invade the airfield. The biggest magnet for animals is the vast quantities of food waste from an increasing number of flights dumped at the airport grounds.
The mountains of leftovers attract not only jackals but birds like kites, vultures, eagles and crows which hover greedily over the airfield. Not surprisingly, Calcutta airport has a record number of bird-hits. But jackals are a deadlier danger with no solution in sight - a stark reality fliers are not even aware of.