In 2011, a seagull at the Cannes Grand Hyatt knocked a glass of wine over the French actress Sophie Marceau, just minutes before the Braveheart star was to walk the red carpet. It wasn't the first time the Hyatt's VIP guests had been attacked while dining, so the hotel decided to hire a team of vicious birds to scare the shit out of the gulls.
Christopher Puzin is Cannes' resident Hawk trainer. He's in charge of five birds swooping around several waterfront hotels, where most festival VIPs stay during the festival.
We visited Puzin and his bird crew to get the details.
VICE: So Christopher, you're a Fauconnerie. What does that mean?
Christopher Puzin: It means my job is to scare the seagulls away with hawks. This is because the seagulls come to the tables, take the food, and break the glasses. It's not good for the guests. A glass of wine on their clothes, just before the red carpet, really not good! We're here for ten days, protecting the most prestigious guests during the festival.
What sort of hawks are you using?
The species we're using is a Harris Hawk—they're from Arizona, California, and Texas. He flies free and attacks seagulls who would otherwise come near the guests and their food, because they are so used to people.
Is this the first time you've done this for Cannes?
No, we've worked for the festival for five years. Ever since Sophie Marceau had wine spilt on her right before a premiere. It was very bad.
I've been a Fauconnerie for 25 years now—it's a passion. Here in Cannes we have two Fauconneries, and four in total in our team. This is the only festival we do it for, but we work in towns, and big supermarkets to keep pigeons and sparrows away. All the species that cause problems. We have 21 birds in total.
Tell me, how do you train a hawk?
After four months of training, we put them on one of these special gloves, where the bird sits and eats out of my hand for the whole day. After that, he spends five months flying free. Then we train them how to kill the prey: seagulls, crows, pigeons. After that, they're ready for the job.
So they kill the seagulls?
If he catches them, yes. But in Cannes, the idea is just for the birds to scare them. If he sees a pigeon or seagull, he attacks it. But if there aren't any they don't fly, they just wait here on the ground. The birds are quite friendly though, they're not dangerous to us. The birds we've got here at the Hyatt are three, five, two, and four years old. They live to the age of 20 and they are very intelligent—they are the only animals in the world, aside from wolves, that hunt cooperatively in a group.
Isn't it a bit mean to make them work all day?
These birds don't live in the wild in France, but they are happy. Our mission is to protect both the predator and prey by restoring the order of the ecosystem. So even if the hawks kill seagulls or pigeons, this is what happens in nature. We've changed the behavior of animals by changing the environment—urban, industrial, and rural, thereby creating an imbalance.
In order to survive, some animals have adapted or taken advantage of their new environments, like pigeons. The aim of falconry is to scare species that cause pollution or harm. But we address each problem specifically, taking into account the environment. Falconry is one of the best ways we have to control this stuff today.
Also we reward the birds a lot, feeding them as often as possible—which is essential for their motivation and desire. Usually we give them chicks, quails, pigeons, chicken necks, duck necks, turkey necks. We also give them minerals, supplements, and vitamins.
Do you have a favorite?
Yes. A golden eagle, Koomba. He's not here though, he's too big, he has a wing-span of 2.6 meters [8.5 ft]—the guests are afraid of him. He's my favorite because he's very, very strong. He's killed a hare, a fox, and, once, a deer.
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