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Peru scrambles vulture squadron in war against trash

Eyes in the sky spy Lima's illegal rubbish dumps

The powers that be in Peruvian capital Lima have scrambled a squadron of ten trained vultures in their war against illegal rubbish dumping.

Lima's human inhabitants create 6,000 tonnes of rubbish every day, according to the city's waste management coordinator Javier Hernandez. He told Reuters: "Approximately 96 per cent of this is collected and goes to landfills, but there is four per cent which remains in places like the mouth of rivers."

Cue GPS tracker-equipped American black vultures (Coragyps atratus), which have a natural penchant for hanging around dumps, and so act as "rubbish-detecting radars", as the Universidad Nacional Mayor de San Marcos's Leticia Salinas put it.

Salinas is part of the team charged with capturing and training the birds, which residents generally view with disdain. Trainer Alfredo Correa expressed hope that their trash-busting role might lead people to regard them more favourably. He said: "Generally the majority of people have a negative view of the vulture, which is associated many times with death and many negative things.

"They don't realise that they play a very important role in nature, especially in Lima as they're helping a lot to control a large quantity of the rubbish we're dumping."

Peru's Deputy Minister of Environmental Management, Mariano Castro, said the vultures had already pinpointed several rubbish pockets in Lima, allowing the city to move in and clean up.

However, the animals' biggest contribution to the cause has been to raise awareness as part of the "Gallinazo Avisa, Tú Actuas" ("Vulture Advises, You Act") campaign.

This initiative - featuring a live vulture-tracking map - encourages people to report illegally-dumped rubbish, and has apparently proved a big internet hit, according to Erik Janowsky of USAID, which is backing the "innovative" programme.

Screen grab of the Lima live vulture map

However, clicks don't clear dumps. Janowsky said: "Now comes the next part: action. Lima has a very serious problem with the rubbish generated every day, which is out of control because there aren't sufficient resources."

Lima's vulture squadron will continue to do its bit, and there are plans aclaw to kit members out with GoPro cameras to grab video evidence. ®

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