Wildlife biologist saves wildlife from San Antonio airports

Wildlife biologist Marcus Macheimel was off duty when he got a strange call.

“Bring your net,” said an American Airlines representative. “Little Monkey Lodge – You have to get up here!”

A rhesus macaque named Dawkins was running out in the non-public baggage claim area at San Antonio International Airport. The president was on his way to his new home at Born Free USA Primate Sanctuary in La Salle County.

Machimel called Animal Welfare Services Director Shannon Sims for backup. Dawkins, frightened, climbed into a tangle of conveyor belts and crevices after his transfer case opened while he was being lowered from a plane. Machemehl worked with peers from the San Antonio Zoo and ACS to catch the two-foot-long monkey.

“He was in the corner, sitting there. I think he was even more shocked because he got out of his cage,” Macheimel, 40, said.

An hour later, Sims was able to calm the fugitive with his sedative arrow.

Machemehl’s mission is to ensure the safety of airport staff and passengers and to keep animals and wildlife free from San Antonio airports. A member of the Wildlife and Safety team, he is one of four wildlife biologists in the state who work at one airport — other airports use contractors to remove the animals.

Marcus Machemehle's job is unique, he's tasked with keeping animals and wildlife out of San Antonio's airports, and here he feeds a trap on the south side of the airport.

Marcus Machemehle’s job is unique, he’s tasked with keeping animals and wildlife out of San Antonio’s airports, and here he feeds a trap on the south side of the airport.

Robin Gerstad

“We work with Marcus regularly, and he’s very good at what he does,” ACS spokeswoman Lisa Norwood said. “He is professional, skilled and affectionate. This is important when addressing animal concerns.”

Machemehl has received calls for wildlife such as wolves, geese, raccoons, white-tailed cats, white-tailed deer and snakes.

“You never know what you’re going to get into,” he said. “Every day is a new day.”

In 2006, Machimel graduated from Texas A&M University with a Bachelor of Science in Rangeland, Wildlife, and Fisheries Management.

Marcus Machemhl is responsible for keeping animals and wildlife clear of San Antonio's airports.  Here he checks out a bird trap on the north perimeter of the airport.

Marcus Machemhl is responsible for keeping animals and wildlife clear of San Antonio’s airports. Here he checks out a bird trap on the north perimeter of the airport.

Ruben Gerstad, San Antonio Express News

Thirteen years earlier, he saw a job posting at the airport shortly after Captain Chesley “Sully” Sullenberger had landed American Airlines Flight 1549 in the Hudson River after colliding with a flock of geese. Bird strikes by planes, such as the “Hudson Miracle,” would feature prominently in his future.

Machemehl was hired as an environmental expert. He was promoted after taking lessons about birds and qualifying as a wildlife biologist through Embry-Riddle Aviation University in 2014. He got to work early, reading night reports and recording any bird strikes. In broad daylight, he drives his Dodge truck around the airport, looking for animals on the go.

“My job is to make the airport as unappealing as possible to animals,” Machimel said. “Wildlife means food, water, cover and space. You take one of those, they will go somewhere else to find it.”

Marcus Machemehle's job is unique, he's tasked with keeping animals and wildlife out of San Antonio's airports, and here he loads a captive pigeon that will be released off-site.

Marcus Machemehle’s job is unique, he’s tasked with keeping animals and wildlife out of San Antonio’s airports, and here he loads a captive pigeon that will be released off-site.

Robin Gerstad

In essence, lessons learned from growing up on a farm in Belleville, where he had visions of becoming a farm manager. He was a member of the 4-H Club, and worked long hours raising chickens, cattle, and rabbits. Sometimes, it relies on the insight from old farmers and ranchers whose wise advice has not yet gone wrong.

Twice a month, in the morning and evening, he conducts wildlife surveys. Machemehl stops at 13 points at the airport and two outside the property, sitting at each spot for five minutes to count the birds in the area. Operation and maintenance teams often alert him to activity in the area. He builds his own traps for large birds, such as great-horned owls and Swenson’s hawks. He uses a bucket truck to check pigeon traps in the hangars around the airport.

Marcus Machemehle's mission is unique, he is tasked with keeping animals and wildlife away from San Antonio's airports, and here rides a captured raccoon that will be released away from the airport.

Marcus Machemehle’s mission is unique, he is tasked with keeping animals and wildlife away from San Antonio’s airports, and here rides a captured raccoon that will be released away from the airport.

Ruben Gerstad, San Antonio Express News

He’s seen his share of migratory birds on his way to Mexico around the airport. He said two falcons from Canada were hit by a plane, and because they are endangered, he had to report the data to the US Fish and Wildlife Service. In October, keep an eye out for a winged sign of seasonal weather – the scissor-tailed flycatcher on the north side of Runway 4.

“People talk about, ‘When they go, the cold comes,'” Macheimel said. “When they appear again in the spring, you know that winter is over.”

His job is not always related to confrontations with winged and clawed wild animals. His role sometimes requires a more meticulous approach to small, roving pets. Recently, Machemehl responded to a call for several puppies to roam the properties around Stinson Municipal Airport. When he parked his truck near the airport tower, the pups ran towards him. Machimel said that after he picked up four of the dogs, three more took off. He recovered two of those and returned the next day to pick up another stray.

After work, animals still play a role in his life. He lives with his family in the countryside, where they have several dogs, barn cats, chickens and a few cows.

When people ask Machimel what he does for a living and he says to them, some say, “Really, this is a job?” He knows they aren’t aware of what’s going on behind the scenes, out of sight of passengers flocking through the terminals.

That’s why Machemhl stresses the importance of keeping San Antonio’s airports safe and free from dangers, animals, and wildlife.

vtdavis@express-news.net

Vincent T Davis, a 22-year-old Air Force veteran, began a second career as a journalist and found his purpose. Watching and listening across San Antonio, he finds exciting tales to tell about ordinary people. He shares his stories with Express-News subscribers every Monday morning.


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