Nature’s janitors in danger

January 4, 2016
Michael Linde  La Canada High 11th Grade

Michael Linde
La Canada High
11th Grade

The vulture, as a scavenger of corpses and remains, has long been maligned as a symbol of greed and rapaciousness, and is closely associated with death, decay, and taint.

The first images that come to mind when the word “vulture” is mentioned are birds circling a carcass, or feasting on the putrid remains. Vultures have revolted mankind since the biblical times; Leviticus and Deuteronomy proclaim them to be abominations in the eyes of God.

To call a man a lion is to describe him as courageous and strong. To call a man a vulture is to describe him as ravenous and avaricious.

But for all their bad associations, vultures are absolutely essential to the ecosystem for their role in cleaning up carcasses, which would practically be piling up without vultures around to clean them up.

When predators score a kill, they leave a carcass behind. With the exception of those that hunt in packs such as wolves, most predators are solitary killers. Once one and its young have eaten their fill, it simply leaves the carcass; lions and cheetahs do not have refrigerators to store meat for later. Carcasses are also created when animals die of disease or other natural means. Bacteria and insects assist in breaking down the corpses, but work much slower and can help spread disease.

Vultures have highly corrosive stomach acid which lets them devour large quantities of meat and, despite their reputation for uncleanliness, also neutralizes toxins in decaying flesh, stopping the spread of diseases from carcasses. Without vultures, dead bodies would linger longer, insect populations would boom, and diseases would spread—to people, livestock, and other wild animals.

Vultures are in danger due to pesticides being used by farmers on carcasses of their livestock, since 2006. The farmers just want to stop predators from killing their livestock, but it also has the unintended consequence of killing the vultures who eat from these carcasses.

Also, poachers kill vultures often because vultures circling above a kill can reveal their illegal activities to rangers. They are now the most threatened avian functional group in the world.

Many solutions have been proposed, one of which is the use of flashing lights to keep predators away from livestock, ending the need for vulture poisoning. It is the most cost-effective and safe approach to protecting both livestock and vulture; they cost around $250, so if one prevents at least one cattle predation, it has already paid for itself (the average bull is around $300).

Currently, use of these light arrays is not widespread but is growing rapidly. Hopefully solutions like this gain traction over the next few years and bring vultures back from the brink of extinction.


One Comment

  1. kelly

    November 27, 2017 at 10:44 AM

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