New Services Provided by Vultures

Although there is a strong competition “between” and “within” guilds (bacteria, invertebrates, carnivores, birds) for pulsed carrion resources (see reviews of Root 1967; Jaksic 1981; Schluter and Ricklefs 1993; Blondel 2003), this does not diminish the fact that potentially harmful species (like rats and feral dogs) prosper with local food abundance (Markandya et al. 2008), carrying potentially infectious diseases (Blount et al. 2003). Therefore, a historical scavengers/humans relationship was built, resulting in a sort of mutualism: humans provide trophic resources and vultures eliminate undesirable remains and control the concentration of disease (Deygout et al. 2009; Margalida et al. 2011; Cortés-Avizanda et al. 2012). Currently, and because both sanitary regulations impose the efficient elimination of livestock remains, and modern societies require that industrial activities are performed in a way that minimizes their ecological footprint, these services have acquired a new dimension: vultures can remove carcasses at zero cost whereas the elimination of livestock carcasses by means of industrial procedures entails high expenditures (transport: 20 €/animal; destruction: 96 €/t; see Donázar et al. 2009a, b). Moreover, the CO2 emissions derived from the transport and burning of carcasses are not negligible. Consequently, modern farming economies may still find vultures to be useful allies in sustaining traditional uses of Mediterranean landscapes (Deygout et al. 2009).

In modern societies, vultures, like other large birds, are highly attractive wildlife, providing several recreational services: the delight experienced from the beauty of a vulture in flight or soaring in large groups, or the observation of feeding behaviour and interactions, among other, bring great value to the environment (Fig. 5.6). These services may be translated into significant incomes derived from “ecotourism” (see Chap. 3). For instance, it is estimated that visitors for griffon vulture watching in Israel provides around US$ 1.1–1.2 million per year (Becker et al. 2005) and the park “La falaise aux vautours” in the French Pyrenees receives 15,000–20,000 visitors per year whose primary motivation is wildlife viewing activities. Overall, the observation of scavenger breeding areas and vulture restaurants is an increasingly common activity within specialized touristic tours. This can improve the income of those southern European rural societies subject to profound environmental and socioeconomic changes.

To summarize, we can conclude that scavenging directly contributes to human well-being. Avian scavengers provide regulation/maintenance and cultural services due to their valuable role in the decomposition of carcasses, pest control, biodiversity maintenance, and tourism attraction (Haines-Young and Potschin 2013; Maes et al. 2013)

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