© Phil Carter

By Hannah Campbell

Here at Loisaba, we use our BioDigester and Community Cooker to convert waste to energy. Disposing of waste is important, as it reduces risk of various diseases as well as ensuring cleanliness in the workplace.

Out in the bush, a similar process of converting waste to energy is happening with the help of animals known as scavengers, which consume decaying biomass to use as energy. Scavengers – sometimes referred to as ‘bio-bins’ – play an important role the food web and exist in a range of sizes, from beetles to bears. They keep an ecosystem free of the bodies of dead animals (carrion), as well as any infectious materials that could become a health hazard to other animals. Scavengers break down this organic material and recycle it into the ecosystem as nutrients.

Hyenas

© Phil Carter

While hyenas are one of Africa’s top predators while working together in a group, they are also able to scavenge older kills due to their strong stomach acid and ability to digest bone. Their jaws (which are among the strongest in relation to size of any other mammal) and digestive tract allow them to process and obtain nutrients from flesh, skin and bones. The only parts of prey not fully digested are hair, horns and hooves which are regurgitated in the form of pellets. The high mineral content of the bones makes their droppings a highly visible, chalky white.

Vultures

© Hannah Campbell

Vultures are the most specialised scavenging bird species and survive on carrion alone. Their excellent eyesight allows them to locate carrion up to six kilometres away while soaring high over the landscape. Vultures usually have no feathers on their head and neck, which prevents pieces of carrion (which can carry toxic bacteria) from sticking to and infecting the bird. Like hyenas, they also have a highly acidic stomach which kills any bacteria that is consumed with the meat.

If vultures disappeared from the landscape, the rotting meat would be consumed by disease-causing agents and carriers, causing a serious health risk to other animals as well as humans. Ecosystem services provided by wildlife and vultures in particular will be impossible or enormously costly to replace once they are lost. It has been estimated that a single living vulture is worth USD 11,000 due to the scavenging services they provide.

Critically endangered African white-backed vulture at Loisaba. © Tui De Roy

Worryingly, six of Africa’s 11 vulture species are now at a high risk of extinction. Four are now Critically Endangered, while two more have been added to the Endangered list.

Six vulture species can be found here at Loisaba; the palm-nut vulture (LC), the Egyptian vulture (EN), the lappet-faced vulture (EN), and the critically endangered hooded, African white-backed and Rüppell’s griffon vultures.

The biggest threat to vulture species is poison, which occurs when people try to eradicate predators such as lions, leopards and hyenas in order to protect their livestock by leaving poisoned cows out as bait.

Critically endangered Rüppell’s griffon vulture at Loisaba. © Hannah Campbell

We are helping to reduce the poisoning threat to vultures and other carnivores by supporting Lion Landscapes and The Peregrine Fund in offering ‘co-existence’ training to the communities surrounding Loisaba. The training is designed to teach communities about the dangers and negative effects of poisoning to humans and their livestock, whilst providing individuals with the skills and knowledge to better protect their livestock and to therefore reduce retaliation killing.

The training is part of the Coexistence Co-op, which is a partnership between Lion Landscapes and The Peregrine Find to reduce livestock lost to large carnivores, and stop the resultant use of highly toxic pesticides to kill ‘problem’ carnivores, and that indiscriminately poison critically endangered vultures.

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