Eagle attacks and injures paraglider mid-flight in Savoie, east France

The attack, which lasted for 13 minutes, left the man in need of stitches and surgery

A split photo showing a person paragliding in the French Alps, and a royal eage.
The eagle was defending its territory in the Alps. Photo for illustrative purposes only
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A paraglider was left injured and in need of stitches and surgery after being attacked by a royal eagle mid-flight in eastern France. 

The attack happened to the qualified paraglider with more than eight years’ experience, during a flight in Pré, a hotspot for the sport in the Savoie department, on April 6.

The pilot - identified only as Thomas - was leading an excursion with two others, who were flying towards the Dent du Villard mountain, a popular paragliding route in the Alps.

Partway through, however, a royal eagle, a bird whose wingspan can reach more than 2 metres, swooped down and took aim at Thomas’ helmet, injuring him in the neck.

The bird was thought to be defending its territory during the breeding season.

Injuries required surgery

The eagle continued to attack for 13 minutes, digging its claws into the paraglider’s arms, causing lacerations and puncture wounds.

Despite the assistance of one of the accompanying paragliders, who manoeuvred towards Thomas to try to fend off the eagle, the bird of prey continued its assault.

The attack only ended when the paragliders were around 100 metres from their landing spot, at which point the eagle flew off.

Thomas was treated for injuries on landing and needed stitches on his neck and arms as well as exploratory surgery to assess if he had suffered more severe internal injuries.

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Paragliders warned against flying in area

A second paraglider was also attacked by an eagle on the same day, although it is not clear if it was the same bird of prey.

The local paragliding club has informed the Ligue pour la Protection Des Oiseaux (bird protection association or LPO) and other local authorities about the attacks, as well as warned its members of the risk of bird attacks.

The LPO said the bird was probably defending its territory and saw the paragliders as a threat. 

The territory of a royal eagle can reach up to 200 km², with the birds building large nests often on cliff edges that paragliders may pass close to.

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Royal (also known as golden) eagles, like many other species, become more aggressive and territorial during the breeding season, which for them runs between March and August.

There are around 1,000 royal eagles in France, mostly in the Alps and Pyrénées mountain ranges, although there are some that live in the Massif Central area.

The association said paragliders should avoid activity around Dent du Villard and Col de la Chal until the end of August. The paragliding club has also warned members of the risks of flying in the area throughout summer.