The lowly vulture is a dirty scavenger to many, but Peruvian environmental authorities have recast the birds as superheroes and outfitted them with hi-tech gear in a bid to crack down on illegal rubbish dumps.
Lima is known for the flocks of vultures that feed at its four landfills and the countless illegal dumps where an estimated 20 percent of its trash ends up.
Peru has been battling an enormous waste and pollution problem. The 9 million people who live in Lima alone produce more than 8,000 tons of trash a day, totaling a whopping 240,000 tons each year, according to Peru This Week. Only 20 percent of it goes to the few landfills the city has. The rest ends up on the streets.
Wearing GPS trackers and mini video cameras, 10 vultures with mythological names have been dispatched to lead authorities to the illegal dumps whose runoff pollutes the rivers and Pacific coastline of the Peruvian capital Lima.
Each bird—including Capitan Huggin, Capitana Aella, and Tiamat—is equipped with a solar-powered GPS device, and some have GoPro cameras attached to their chests. They’re then trained to track down garbage scattered throughout the city’s streets. The images are gathered, the locations are recorded, and then they are projected onto a live map.
“They can, as per the title of the campaign, warn us where they’re finding large quantities of trash,” says Erik Janowsky, USAID’s deputy mission director in Peru. “Then it’s up to us [humans] to sort of take care of that.”
The 10 vultures, which have all been certified disease-free, are trained to fly back to their keepers after each outing. Video footage they take along the way will be posted online.
“Vultures are our allies. In their search for food, what they’re really doing is identifying places where there is organic matter and garbage”, said Programme coordinator Javier Hernandez
The campaign’s goal: to encourage residents to report areas with illegal dumping and to rally the public and private sectors to come up with long-term goals for solving Lima’s waste problem. People have joined the fight by snapping their own photos and uploading them to the Gallinazo Avisa website.
Type of Partnership: Win-Neutral for Public and Planet
While the campaign benefits Public health and sanitation, and also prevents runoff pollution into rivers, it is not actively enriching the Planet. Whilst the campaign changes the perception of vultures to one that is more positive, it is not enriching the lives of vultures as the elimination of illegal trash dumps gradually reduces the vultures’ man-made food source.