Ruffled Feathers in Sudan

Surveillance drone manufacturers watch out – you’ve got real-bird competition. Or so Sudanese officials believe.

By: /
13 December, 2012

Israel has been accused by the Sudanese authorities of deploying a vulture on a reconnaissance mission in West Sudan. The “vulture” in this case is a live bird – not a new drone prototype. According to a report by CNN, the vulture was tagged with a bracelet saying “Hebrew University Jerusalem”and “Israel Nature Service”, as well as the contact details of an Israeli avian ecologist, but Sudanese officials became concerned by the bird’s GPS-equipped camera. The camera, according to Ohad Hatzofe of the Israel Nature and Parks Authority and the ecologist named on the bracelet, insists the GPS camera allows for nothing but tracking the bird’s location, and is widely used by those studying migratory species.

Hatzofe also cast doubt on the practicality of using vultures as secret agents: “I’m not an intelligence expert, but what would be learned from putting a camera onto a vulture? You cannot control it. It’s not a drone that you can send where you want. What would be the benefit of watching a vulture eat the insides of a dead camel?

Given Israel’s success in developing deploying drones for surveillance, it seems unlikely that the Mossad would now choose to send a live bird to monitor developments in West Sudan (or anywhere else for that matter). The vulture’s acute eyesight could be an advantage, certainly, but whether this would outweigh a tendency for target transfer – from suspected terrorist to tasty-looking dead camel – is unclear.