GPS-equipped vultures lead Peru’s war on trash

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Authorities in the Peruvian capital city Lima have a new weapon in their war against illegal waste dumpers. They’ve taken to equipping vultures with GPS tracking devices and, soon, GoPro cameras, in an effort to help officials crack down on the rise in illegal waste dumps in and around the city.

So far, ten highly-trained vultures have taken to the skies wearing purpose-built vests in order to monitor the city from the skies. The birds are being employed under the Lima government’s new “Vultures Detect” program to rid the city of rubbish.

Lima’s city waste management coordinator Javier Hernandez told Reuters that 6,000 tonnes of trash are generated by the city’s residents every single day. He pointed out that 96 percent of this rubbish ends up where it should, in landfill sites, but that “four percent remains in places like the mouths of rivers”.

Which is why officials hit on the idea of arming American black vultures to do their ‘dirty work’ for them. The vultures, which have a natural penchant for rubbish dumps, act as “rubbish-detecting radars” explained Leticia Salinas, a researcher at the National University of San Marcos in Lima.

Salinas is leading the team responsible for capturing and training the vultures, which are generally regarded with disdain by most Peruvians. However, vulture trainer Alfredo Correa said that he hopes the vulture’s role in cleaning up the city will help to give them a much more positive image. “Generally, the majority of people have a negative view of the vulture, which is associated with death and other negative ideas,” Correa said. “People don’t realize they play a very important role in nature, especially in Lima as they are helping to control a large quantity of the rubbish we’re dumping.”

So far, the vultures have already helped to pinpoint a number of rubbish pockets hidden in the city, allowing Lima’s trash removal teams to move in and clear them up.

The vulture program is part-funded by USAID. Officials are hoping to expand the program in the near future by equipping the vultures with GoPro cameras so they can obtain visual images of suspected garbage dumps.

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