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6 varmints that we should embrace

By: Jaymi Heimbuch on March 12, 2013, 3:29 p.m.
A turkey vulture perches on a fence post

Photo: devra/flickr

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Humans have an odd relationship with vultures. While some cultures have elevated vultures' significance to a spiritual level, for others they have been placed in the varmint category. This is for a few reasons, none of which have to do with their unnerving presence, signaling death. Vultures can be messy, causing major and costly damage to buildings. These high-altitude fliers also pose a problem for airplanes and can do significant damage in a collision, even causing crashes — although rarely.

However, for all their messiness, they are vital as cleanup crews, feeding primarily on carrion. In fact, a recent article in LiveScience notes that in the 1980s, more than 40 million vultures populated India, eating around 12 million tons of carrion every year. However, medication given to cattle that is toxic to the birds has caused a dramatic decline in the species. Wild dogs have dined on cattle carcasses instead; since then, rabid dogs have been responsible for the deaths of 50,000 people over the last few decades. Instead of vultures providing billions of dollars' worth of cleanup, wild dogs are causing billions of dollars' worth of losses.