LONDON -- Wimbledon came under fire from animal activists on Tuesday for using marksmen to shoot down dive-bombing pigeons.
The tournament employs two hawks to scare away pigeons who had become a pest swooping down on Centre Court and distracting players in the middle of tense matches.
But the hawks failed to keep the pigeons away from the players' lawn and the open-air media restaurant so marksmen were called in.
"The hawks are our first line of deterrent, and by and large they do the job," Wimbledon spokesman Johnny Perkins said.
"But unfortunately there were one or two areas where the hawks didn't deter the pigeons, so it was deemed necessary to take a harder approach," he explained.
The marksmen were summoned by Wimbledon as pigeon droppings on the restaurant tables were thought to be a health hazard.
The decision to call in the marksmen was condemned as "cruel and illegal behavior" by People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals, which complained to the tournament organizers and the police.
"Since the use of marksmen to kill pigeons appears to have been carried out as a first, rather than a last, resort and not out of a concern for public health but rather because the animals were deemed inconvenient by players, you appear to be in clear violation of the law," PETA vice president Bruce Friedrich said.