Tuesday, September 19, 2006

When Hawks attack

RIO DE JANEIRO, Brazil Residents of crime-plagued Rio de Janeiro have a new kind of predator to worry about — hawks.

A pair of hawks have attacked more than 100 residents of the upscale Ipanema beach district over the past year, scratching peoples heads and faces, doormen working at buildings in the area said Monday.

"People leave the building carrying umbrellas to protect themselves from the attacks," said Luis Honorato, a doorman in a building near where the hawks have built a nest. "At first, they think that someone is throwing something, like a can, onto their heads from the floors above."

Honorato said that one day he saw five attacks in 20 minutes.

"Every time I leave the building I keep waving my hands over my head," said Mario Roxo, a 75-year-old chauffeur who had his head badly scratched by a hawk.

The O Globo newspaper reported that one woman lost part of her scalp to a hawk and another man mistook an attack for a stray bullet.

Rodgrigo Carvalho, a biologist with Brazil's environmental agency, said the hawks were just trying to defend their young.

"This happens all the time in poor areas and people think it's funny, but when it happens in a rich neighborhoods they start calling them attacks," Carvalho said.

He estimates as many as 1,000 hawks live in the city, flourishing because of a lack of predators and easy access to rats, pigeons and garbage.

Residents have asked the fire department to remove the nest, but officials say they cannot until they get approval from Brazil's environmental protection agency.

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