Why we need vultures
Why we need vultures
Vultures consume large amounts of carrion derived from animal carcasses, maintaining the transfer of energy through food webs and supporting important ecosystem services such as nutrient recycling, removal of soil and water contaminants and regulating the development and spread of diseases and populations of facultative scavengers such as foxes.
Recent studies have shown that vultures provide an efficient, cost-effective and environmentally beneficial carcass disposal service, which is positively valued by livestock farmers. For example, in Spain it has been demonstrated that exploiting the ability of Griffon Vultures to rapidly consume livestock carcasses would significantly reduce greenhouse gas emissions (by 77,344 metric tons of CO2 eq.) and economic costs ($50 million in insurance payments) arising from the collection and transport of carcasses to processing plants by vehicles.
As vultures are specialized for rapidly locating and consuming carcasses, they have a competitive advantage over terrestrial species such as foxes. In the absence of vultures it has been shown that populations of feral dogs and other facultative scavengers can increase, potentially increasing the development and transmission of diseases such as rabies. While vultures are likely help to limit disease transmission at carcasses, further work on this topic is urgently required.
Vultures also provide cultural and spiritual services dating back thousands of years, as well as recreational services in the form of ecotourism, particularly for bird-watchers and photographers. There are many other examples of the potential value of ecotourism around vulture breeding areas and feeding sites as important sources of local income (e.g. southern Africa; Spain; South America). Therefore, as tourism in Cyprus generates €2.7 billion annually and contributes 15% towards the GDP, the projected increase in the Griffon Vulture population through the LIFE with Vultures project could provide an additional boost to local economies if some of the four million visitors each year can be engaged in vulture watching and photography.
It is now widely acknowledged that promoting the scavenging services provided by vultures would restore an important ecological function for the mutual benefit of vultures, the wider environment and ultimately provide socio-economic and well-being benefits to people.