Beyond their regulatory services for the elimination of carrion from the environment, scavengers present a high value due to the cultural services they provide us in the form of, for example, recreational and educational experiences linked to scavenger-based tourism.
Non-material nature’s contributions to people are fundamental to human well-being, but they are very difficult to quantify and evaluate. In the case of avian scavengers, we know that the regulatory services they provide to ecosystems are fundamental to society, as they consist of eliminating carcasses that would otherwise become waste and a source of diseases.
But in addition to the benefits that avian scavengers provide us by carrying out their natural function in ecosystems, vultures, corvids and other raptors have a high value for the cultural services they provide in form of, for example, recreational and educational experiences linked tourism of avian scavengers. Watching these birds in their natural environment and/or at supplementary feeding sites can make important contributions to people's quality of life and well-being, but also economic contributions to rural areas hosting this type of nature tourism.
The first estimate of the economic benefit derived from the cultural contributions of avian scavengers indicates that, in the Pyrenees alone, tourism around vultures mobilizes an average of 4.2 million euros per year
Scientists from the Universidad de Lleida (UdL), the Universidad Miguel Hernández (UMH) and the Research Group in Game Resources and Wildlife Management of the Instituto de Investigación en Recursos Cinegéticos (IREC – CSIC, UCLM, JCCM), have identified and quantified, for the first time from a non-economic perspective, the non-material contributions (cultural services) provided by avian scavengers through ecotourism in supplementary feeding sites, and have analyzed the profile of visitors of these sites in the Pyrenees.
The study identifies and measures the perceptions of people who enjoy ecotourism activities related to avian scavengers in the Pyrenees.
Results showed that 85% of the visitors of supplementary feeding sites of avian scavengers perceived these birds as providers of beneficial non-material contributions, especially appreciating those aspects supporting identity values, such as those that determine species as iconic, value a species for its existence, or associate feelings of belonging to a place with a species.
The aesthetic, inspirational and learning values were also related to these species of avian scavengers within the non-material contributions. However, among the visitors of these feeding sites, the regulatory contributions of these scavengers were barely mentioned.
Two groups of visitors of the supplementary feeding sites for avian scavengers were differentiated: specialists who observe avian scavengers and nature lovers, defined mainly by their previous experience with birds, their knowledge of these species, interest and perceptions of them. Overall, it was found that visitors of these feeding sites are knowledgeable about these birds and have a very positive perception of them, with the bearded vulture being the species that received the most positive evaluations. Vultures were the best visually identified and culturally recognized species compared to other raptors and corvids, the latter being the least positively valued.
The authors of this work point out that, although further multidisciplinary analysis, including multiple social actors, is needed to provide a more integrated and holistic perspective on the social role of avian scavengers in society, this work serves to reinforce the recent calls made by the Intergovernmental Science-Policy Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services (IPBES) to conserve the threatened populations of avian scavengers.
The scientific publication of this research is available at:
- García-Jiménez, R., Pérez-García, J. M., Margalida, A., Morales-Reyes, Z. 2022. Avian scavengers’ contributions to people: The cultural dimension of wildlife-based tourism. Science of the Total Environment 806, 150419.