By Fernando Gimeno.
A group of black vultures fitted with GoPro video cameras and GPS devices shows the accumulation of garbage in Lima as they hover in the Peruvian capital's habitually gray sky, part of an initiative aimed at raising awareness about the impact of indiscriminate waste disposal.
For the past month, these birds have been the aerial squadron of a U.S. Agency for International Development and Peruvian Environment Ministry eco-campaign known as "Gallinazo avisa, tu actuas" (Vulture Detects, You Take Action).
The vultures are a type of radar for garbage detection, researcher Leticia Salinas, a member of a team from Lima's National University of San Marcos that was responsible for rounding up and training the birds for the program, told EFE.
"The idea is for them to warn us and give us a pretext for talking about the garbage problem, which we can all help mitigate," Salinas said.
The biggest accumulations of garbage detected thus far have been along the banks of the Rimac River, which flows through the metropolis to the Pacific Ocean, and in the vicinity of large marketplaces, the expert said.
The birds' flight paths are tracked on a Web site run by the FCB Mayo agency, where users also can upload photos showing the accumulation of garbage in their neighborhoods.
The initiative also has enabled the launching of an unprecedented study of vultures, including veterinary examinations, research into their behavior and a more precise measurement of their population.
"Even though people think vultures are plentiful in Lima, our calculation is that there are around 2,000 individuals," Salinas said.
These birds seek out high and discreet places, such as bell towers, to take shelter from the elements, sleep and sometimes reproduce, while they look for food in other places, the expert said.
"Integrated management of solid waste is required to reduce garbage focal points and prevent the vulture population from increasing to a level dangerous for people, so they can keep carrying out the noble task of eliminating organic waste and protecting us from the proliferation of bacteria," Salinas said.
The deputy mission director at USAID/Peru, Erik Janowsky, told EFE that the promoters of the campaign were pleasantly surprised at the results, with visits to the Web site having already exceeded 4 million.
"Now comes the other part: action. Lima has a very serious problem with the garbage generated every day, which is out of control because we know there is a lack of sufficient resources," Janowsky said.
"Through this campaign, you can see the real situation and get involved. The spark is there, and we think the fire can be sustained by Peru and the private sector," he added.
Deputy Environmental Management Minister Mariano Castro said 5 billion soles (around $1.46 billion) must be invested for Peru to effectively manage the 18,000 tons of garbage generated daily nationwide, a third of which accumulates in Lima, providing a veritable feast for its vulture population. EFE