Chalica Day 7

THE IMPORTANCE OF THE VULTURES IN OUR ENVIRONMENT — Today’s Principal #7:  Respect for the interdependent web of all existence of which we are a part.

Last Monday I began writing about the 7 days of Chalica. Chalica was new to me and probably to most Unitarian Universalists and the rest of the world! I hoped writing about each of the UU principles would focus my thoughts on how our principles are relevant to Africa and especially to my goal of digging wells and building latrines for the Oltorotua Well & Sanitation Project. I hope some of you, even if not UU, were inspired to consider the principles, which, after all, are pretty hard to argue with. 

I asked my friend, Paul Kirui, to write today’s post because his research for achieving gold level as a safari guide was on vultures and both his professional work and his personal life represent compassion for others and for the environment. Because he believes education, especially of women, is the key to a strong, forward-looking Kenya, he has set up a UK trust to educate Kenyan girls and, through Paul, several friends and I have helped other young women with schooling. It was also through Paul that my husband, Carl, and I met Jackson and that quite literally changed the direction of our lives.

Paul’s professional background on his website tells us:

My experiences and encounters with wild animals when I was young provided me with an opportunity to grow up with wildlife knowledge. Elephants could always come around the village where we live at night and ate any plants including vegetables in the garden. I would encounter Zebras, Impala, Eland, Rhino, and Giraffes etc. while herding cattle in the fields far from home.

It was at this period that I learnt tracking, signs and alarm call interpretation in the bush as a necessity for survival in the bush. This skill has provided me an addition to my guiding techniques by interpreting the tracks, which really helps me find game easily. I have been able to work with the BBC Natural History unit as a special leopard tracker for the Big Cat Week and Big Cat Live programs since 2006, also Disney nature during the filming of African cats in 2009/10.

You can see why, when he refers to spending a day in “his office,” he means the great outdoors of Kenya’s Maasai Mara wildlife reserve. I never thought about vultures as being either crucial to our environment or as charismatic and charming. If you haven’t either, read on.


by Paul Kirui

Vultures play a key ecological role in our ecosystem by consuming carcasses of dead aniamls, therefore ridding the environment of potential disease causing organisms that could threaten the survival of other inter­dependent and co-existing species. On an ecosystem in East Africa (Mara-Serenegti) they account for nearly 70% of the consumption of large wild herbivores. Put in this perspective, the ecological role of the vulture community in that ecosystem is of greater importance than all the carnivores and mammalian scavengers combined.

Vultures as a group, by virtue of their position in the food chain, their far-ranging patterns and as charismatic species are considered useful indicators of ecological health. Their absence in any particular ecosystem could lead to a dire ecological consequences; i.e, outbreak of diseases.

In south Asia (India and Pakistan) the vulture population went down by 95% in about 10 years as a result of eating carcases of cows that had been treated with a drug called declofenac. Because of this, carcases remained uneaten at dumps. Soon bacteria multiplied greatly on the carcasses and caused airborne disease in areas around the dumps. The number of feral dogs going to feed on the carcasses went up and rabies also went up, killing many people every year. This could happen as well on any ecosystem if the vultures disappear!

[Vulture photo by Carl Kruhm]

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