Flying Clean-up Crew on Socotra Island [Archives:2007/1074/Health]

August 6 2007

Abdulqadir Al-Emad
[email protected]
For Yemen Times

Socotra, with its absolutely spectacular scenery and fascinating domestic life, is considered the magnetic jewel of Yemen in particular and the Arab Peninsula in general. Recently nominated as one of the seven wonders of nature, it is bestowed with a rich variety of birdlife.

From amongst this birdlife are the Egyptian vultures. In Socotra the locals call this bird “Soeeda.” It is worth mentioning that vultures are surprisingly common throughout the beautiful landscape of this island.

Physical Appearance of Socotra Vulture (Also known as Soeeda): It is about four pounds as it is one of the smaller Old World Vultures according to some sources. It is about 25 inches in length. Its color is a mixture of bright yellow and white. Most of the vultures have a mane of white feathers on their heads.

Preferable Geographic Atmosphere: Wide and open lands such as pastures, deserts and grasslands. They usually build their stone nests on the caves of mountains.

Secret of Being Common in Socotra:

People of Socotra do not abuse or harm these birds; rather they warmly welcome them as sweepers or a clean-up crew. Mahmoud, a resident of Socotra, revealed many facts about this vulture. They usually build stick nests in rocky caves of mountains. The waste of carrion, dead animals and food is cleaned up by this self-volunteer crew. Egyptian vultures are scavengers by nature in the sense that they sweep every particle of dead animal carcasses and other waste.

Soeedas Benefit from Humans Too:

The Soeeda regurgitates the waste and garbage it swallows, which it then feeds to its young. This kind of benefit is of no use to other creatures. The garbage and waste of the island serves two purposes for these birds)-feeding themselves first and then feeding their children. Moreover, humans benefit especially in areas that lack sweepers, as the vultures clean the area of garbage, which is usually a main cause of environmental pollution. In this sense humans are indebted to this helpful sweeping crew. Vultures should be awarded for their service of protecting the environment from pollution.

Egyptian Vultures are Equal to Human Beings:

It is narrated that once upon a time an Egyptian Pharaoh made a law that anyone who killed an Egyptian vulture would be sentenced to death. He thought the job these birds did in cleaning up people's waste was very important. People still value the bird for that reason. More than a century ago, the bile from Egyptian vultures' livers was made into a medicine and their skins were tanned to make leather according to some historical references. These are reasons why this bird deserves more care and attention. Fortunately, their life is not threatened in Socotra.

Mahmoud pointed out, “These birds are very common here and we do not allow anyone to harm them. They are cleaning up our environment asking for nothing in return. We do not pay them salaries and they do their mission concisely.” When we asked him about bad characteristics of these birds he indicated that they have little shortcomings. “Sometimes if this bird does not get its food it depends on chasing live prey. Sometimes these birds chase and attack our domestic birds such as chickens, but anyhow we manage and prevent them. Good features of these birds are more than bad ones.”

Human Cleverness is an Aspect of Humor in Soeeda:

Mahmoud told us about the Soeeda's diet and its eating mechanisms. The Soeeda diet varies from time to time according to the prey available. The vulture never feels exhausted from the constant search for food. As a scavenger, the Soeeda mostly eats carrion. It also eats insects, eggs and very rarely it will eat domestic live prey. A sign of the Soeeda's cleverness according to Mahmoud is the vulture's method of eating eggs. Soeedas are famous for their ability to break thick ostrich eggs by throwing stones at them. This is humorous about vultures. Mahmoud added, “This is the Creator's concreteness in showing each creature the proper and easy mechanism of handling its own life.”