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  • Translator: Morton Bast Reviewer: Thu-Huong Ha

  • I would like to talk to you about

  • a very special group of animals.

  • There are 10,000 species of birds in the world.

  • Vultures are amongst the most threatened group of birds.

  • When you see a vulture like this, the first thing

  • that comes to your mind is, these are disgusting, ugly,

  • greedy creatures that are just after your flesh,

  • associated with politicians. (Laughter) (Applause)

  • I want to change that perception. I want to change

  • those feelings you have for these birds, because

  • they need our sympathy. They really do. (Laughter)

  • And I'll tell you why.

  • First of all, why do they have such a bad press?

  • When Charles Darwin went across the Atlantic in 1832

  • on the Beagle, he saw the turkey vulture,

  • and he said, "These are disgusting birds

  • with bald scarlet heads that are formed to revel in putridity." (Laughter)

  • You could not get a worse insult, and that from Charles Darwin. (Laughter)

  • You know, he changed his mind when he came back,

  • and I'll tell you why.

  • They've also be associated with Disney — (Laughter) —

  • personified as goofy, dumb, stupid characters.

  • More recently, if you've been following the Kenyan press

  • — (Laughter) (Applause) (Cheers) —

  • these are the attributes that they associated

  • the Kenyan MPs with. But I want to challenge that.

  • I want to challenge that. Do you know why?

  • Because MPs

  • do not keep the environment clean. (Laughter)

  • MPs do not help to prevent the spread of diseases.

  • They are hardly monogamous. (Laughter) (Applause)

  • They are far from being extinct. (Laughter)

  • And, my favorite is, vultures are better looking. (Applause) (Laughter)

  • So there's two types of vultures in this planet.

  • There are the New World vultures that are mainly found

  • in the Americas, like the condors and the caracaras,

  • and then the Old World vultures, where we have

  • 16 species. From these 16, 11 of them are facing

  • a high risk of extinction.

  • So why are vultures important? First of all,

  • they provide vital ecological services. They clean up.

  • They're our natural garbage collectors.

  • They clean up carcasses right to the bone.

  • They help to kill all the bacteria. They help absorb anthrax

  • that would otherwise spread and cause

  • huge livestock losses and diseases in other animals.

  • Recent studies have shown that in areas where there are

  • no vultures, carcasses take up to three to four times

  • to decompose, and this has huge ramifications

  • for the spread of diseases.

  • Vultures also have tremendous historical significance.

  • They have been associated in ancient Egyptian culture.

  • Nekhbet was the symbol of the protector

  • and the motherhood, and together with the cobra,

  • symbolized the unity between Upper and Lower Egypt.

  • In Hindu mythology, Jatayu was the vulture god,

  • and he risked his life in order to save the goddess Sita

  • from the 10-headed demon Ravana.

  • In Tibetan culture, they are performing very important

  • sky burials. In places like Tibet, there are no places

  • to bury the dead, or wood to cremate them,

  • so these vultures provide a natural disposal system.

  • So what is the problem with vultures?

  • We have eight species of vultures that occur in Kenya,

  • of which six are highly threatened with extinction.

  • The reason is that they're getting poisoned, and the reason

  • that they're getting poisoned is because there's

  • human-wildlife conflicts. The pastoral communities

  • are using this poison to target predators,

  • and in return, the vultures are falling victim to this.

  • In South Asia, in countries like India and Pakistan,

  • four species of vultures are listed as critically endangered,

  • which means they have less than 10 or 15 years to go extinct,

  • and the reason is because they are falling prey

  • by consuming livestock that has been treated

  • with a painkilling drug like Diclofenac.

  • This drug has now been banned for veterinary use in India,

  • and they have taken a stand.

  • Because there are no vultures, there's been a spread

  • in the numbers of feral dogs at carcass dump sites,

  • and when you have feral dogs, you have a huge time bomb

  • of rabies. The number of cases of rabies

  • has increased tremendously in India.

  • Kenya is going to have one of the largest wind farms in Africa:

  • 353 wind turbines are going to be up at Lake Turkana.

  • I am not against wind energy, but we need to work

  • with the governments, because wind turbines

  • do this to birds. They slice them in half.

  • They are bird-blending machines.

  • In West Africa, there's a horrific trade

  • of dead vultures to serve the witchcraft and the fetish market.

  • So what's being done? Well, we're conducting research

  • on these birds. We're putting transmitters on them.

  • We're trying to determine their basic ecology,

  • and see where they go.

  • We can see that they travel different countries, so

  • if you focus on a problem locally, it's not going to help you.

  • We need to work with governments in regional levels.

  • We're working with local communities.

  • We're talking to them about appreciating vultures,

  • about the need from within to appreciate these

  • wonderful creatures and the services that they provide.

  • How can you help? You can become active,

  • make noise. You can write a letter to your government

  • and tell them that we need to focus on these very

  • misunderstood creatures. Volunteer your time

  • to spread the word. Spread the word.

  • When you walk out of this room, you will be informed

  • about vultures, but speak to your families, to your children,

  • to your neighbors about vultures.

  • They are very graceful. Charles Darwin said

  • he changed his mind because he watched them fly

  • effortlessly without energy in the skies.

  • Kenya, this world, will be much poorer

  • without these wonderful species.

  • Thank you very much. (Applause)

Translator: Morton Bast Reviewer: Thu-Huong Ha

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