Jenny Renell tells us why we should care about birds of prey.
If Jenny Renell’s job was to protect panda bears, she wouldn’t have to answer questions about the importance of the work. No, birds of prey such as vultures are not the cutest of animals. But Renell has weighty arguments about why these somewhat unappealing creatures need to be protected.
Renell has been working at the Abu Dhabi office of the Bonn Convention’s Secretariat for nearly eight years. The organization aims to protect 93 species of birds of prey, within the Convention on the Conservation of Migratory Species of Wild Animals (CMS or Bonn Convention).
As birds tend to fly, cooperation must be international.
“Currently we have an action plan on the table, concerning 15 vultures and 128 countries. That’s how big the migration areas are”, Jenny Renell explains. “We are trying to get all the range states along the migration route to protect the species together.”
In the 1990s, vulture populations began to decrease in India and elsewhere in South Asia due to secondary poisoning. Nowadays the numbers are critically small.
“If a species, for example the Egyptian Vulture disappears, it affects the whole ecosystem. Diseases, such as rabies, start to spread”, Renell says. “Vultures must be there doing their job, that is, consuming the carcasses."
A single vulture is worth thousands of dollars just for its cleaning services.
“By stopping the spread of disease they are worth much more in saved health service costs, not to mention tourism.”
In Africa, a similar crisis is happening.
“Cattle owners set poison traps to keep off lions and other predators. When lions die and vultures consume the carcasses, the vultures also die.”
Sometimes, carcasses of large mammals such as elephant, are deliberately laced with poison after being poached, to reduce vulture numbers. Vultures signal game rangers where carcasses are, showing where poachers are, too. A single incident like this can kill hundreds of vultures.
Renell has been involved in preparing guidelines to solve this problem: an action plan that will hopefully get approved in an international wildlife conference in the Philippines this month.
“The action plan aims to halt the species population declines, and to restore the numbers to a favourable level.”
In Abu Dhabi, bird conservation is boosted not only by nature conservation but also by culture.
“In the United Arab Emirates, falcons such as the Saker Falcon, have been used traditionally for hunting. They are respected animals, and currently endangered.”
Not only birds, but also dugongs are on the agenda of the Bonn Convention’s Abu Dhabi office. World’s second largest population of dugongs inhabits Abu Dhabi waters.
"Dugongs live in our shallow waters that have lots of sea grass”, says Renell. “They are shy animals, and avoid people. The biggest threat is by catch in fishing nets.”
Renell, who specializes in international relations, has always cared about the nature.
“I so miss the Finnish winter! I would like to ski and enjoy the cold weather”, Renell laughs.
“I like to follow an ecological lifestyle. It involves, for example, recycling, using eco-friendly products, and thinking beyond of how my decisions affect me.”
If Renell had the power, she would transform the consuming habits.
“Could you downgrade your standard of living for the sake of nature?” Renell asks. “With less consumption, less waste is generated.”
In Renell’s opinion, the recycling and sustainable processing of glass, metal, paper and hazardous waste should be established without delay.
An encompassing, modern public transport system is in her wish list as well.
However, Jenny Renell believes that the United Arab Emirates is going to the positive direction in these matters.
“Schools already teach kids how their decisions affect the environment. That's where it all starts from.”