This article was originally published on Grist.
The vulture might seem like an unlikely urban superhero — I mean, not to us, but maybe to most normal people. But in Lima, Peru, the bird’s knack for detecting decaying matter is truly serving the public.
A crew of 10 vultures has been trained to hunt down garbage while providing a bird’s eye view of where Lima’s trash troubles are most severe. Linda Poon from CityLab reports:
Each bird … is equipped with a solar-powered GPS device, and some have GoPro cameras attached to their chests. They’re then trained to track down garbage scattered throughout the city’s streets. The images are gathered, the locations are recorded, and then they are projected onto a live map.
This project is part of a mission called “Gallinazo Avisa” (“Vultures Warn”), a joint effort between the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) and Peru’s Ministry of the Environment. The campaign, which launched on Dec. 7, is one outcome of the COP20 climate change conference that was held in Lima in 2014.
In the campaign’s video above, a vulture laments (in Spanish) the ongoing conflict between humans and waste: “We’ve fought a constant battle in silence, but the garbage is winning. Garbage has taken over the air, infected the water, sickened the earth, and you don’t want to acknowledge it.”
Lima is struggling with an Andes-sized trash problem. As Poon points out, of the 8,000 tons of garbage the city produces a day, only 20 percent actually goes to landfills — which means that approximately 6,400 tons of waste end up on the streets each day.
Luckily, nature’s most infamous scavenger is on the job. As the saying goes, the early bird gets la basura.
Editorial intern for Grist.