In Peru’s capital, vultures are being fitted with cameras to track illegal dumping grounds. Lima has just four official landfill sites to manage the waste of 9 million residents. There is a growing problem with people discarding household and business waste at illegal dumps, with sites sprouting up throughout the city. Poorer neighbourhoods tend to have a higher share of these sites, as issues in collecting council tax can lead to an absence of municipal refuse services. Illegal dumping is causing a mounting set of public health and environmental issues in Lima and is also responsible for increasingly polluting the rivers Rimac, Chillon and Lurin that run through or surround Lima and provide its inhabitants with water. Further to this, contamination of these rivers also affects the Pacific ocean where pollution eventually reaches.
A project called Gallinazo Avisa, funded by the United States Agency for International Development (USAID), has found a new approach to address this problem, teaming up with the city’s vultures to identify illegal dumps in the city. By fitting GoPro cameras and tracking devices to the birds, the team gets an aerial perspective on the scale of the problem and can send clearing teams to waste hot spots. The movement of vultures can be monitored through the Gallinazo website, allowing anyone to track the birds over the city. In turn, the initiative encourages Lima’s citizens to be more actively vigilant against pollution by encouraging residents to upload the whereabouts of dumps in their own neighborhoods on Gallinazo's Facebook and Twitter pages.
Gallinazo Avisa is one example amongst others of recent schemes where animal behaviour in adaptation to an urban context is used to address human problems. Instead of relying on tech-heavy solutions such as the programming of drones, this initiative takes an ecological niche already being optimised by vultures (to find food) and turns their behaviour towards the provision of both social and environmental benefits. This is also delivering wider benefits for society in getting citizens to engage with issues relating to the environment. As the scheme progresses, rising awareness of the problem may encourage the development of entrepreneurial solutions to address pollution - perhaps like this one in Lagos, Nigeria, where waste management is becoming a profitable business that delivers benefits to society and the surrounding ecosystem.
Image credit: FCB Mayo
Gallinazo Avisa (2016)
On a related note,
Cigarette butts littering the streets have been shown to negatively affect the environment, marine life, and public health. Crowded Cities, a dutch start-up, has successfully crowd-funded a project to train crows to pick up the litter and deposit them in a 'Crowbar' in return for a small amount of food.