1Frame4Nature | Jasper Doest
A caretaker at Centre de Réintroducion des Cigognes in North-East France is holding a new born White Stork chick. Only decades ago these large charismatic white birds were on the edge of extinction due to habitat loss and use of heavy pesticides. Due to an intensive reintroduction program we were able to save this species from going extinct.
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White Storks foraging at a local landfill in Beja, Portugal. As humanity moved from the agricultural lands to the post WWII industrialisation metropolitan lifestyle, the birds followed us towards the big cities, where they are now foraging on the excretions of our human society.
iLCP Fellow Jasper Doest 1Frame4Nature:
White storks have always lived in close relationship with humans. Who doesn’t know the mythical stories about these large white birds bringing babies to new parents? This legend is based on old European countryfolk-beliefs that the spirit of unborn children dwelled in bodies of water where the stork was known to stalk. Waiting to be plucked by a stork passing by, these babies were then delivered to new mothers.
Other cultures speak highly of white storks as well. In Ancient Egypt the stork was associated with the soul. Greek and Roman mythology portray storks as models of parental devotion. In Chinese wisdom, the stork is a symbol of longevity. In Christianity, the meaning of the stork deals with purification and followers of Islam revered storks because they made an annual pilgrimage to Mecca on their migration.
White Storks surrounding a bulldozer, bringing new waste. This new waste contains enough food ‘leftovers’ to feed thousands of storks on a daily basis.
However, these migratory paths are rapidly changing. The iconic White Stork is a very adaptable, opportunistic species. Since the mid-1980s, increasing numbers of White Stork have chosen to stay on the European continent all year rather than migrate to Africa in winter. These resident birds rely almost exclusively on the guaranteed, abundant food supply from landfill sites throughout the year.
After feeding in the morning, the white storks stay on the landfill where they clean themselves and wait for more food to arrive. These birds have even changed their migratory behaviour due to the continuous supply of food.
While it is clear that the stork population has benefited from the large quantities of food, you don’t have to be a scientist to see something is wrong.
Water has been pumped up from the soil and is sprayed over the landfill to dilute the strong acids that are being released by the decomposition process. Recent studies show an apparent physiological adaptation of the White Storks to the exploitation of landfill sites for foraging. Also, the results highlight the risk of exposure of White Storks to bacterial strains carrying resistance genes, when exposed to human residues.
White stork foraging for meat and fish leftovers at a local landfill site in Portugal. Nestlings from colonies at rubbish dumps had a significantly better body condition than nestlings from more natural colonies, and therefore has helped reestablishing the population we have today. However, on an individual level it is a hostile environment where these birds are being exposed to toxic chemicals and plastic on a daily basis.
Over the past years I’ve spend many weeks on landfill sites and recycling centers in Southern Europe. I was working on a photo story about white storks and noticed large flocks of birds foraging on mountains of municipal waste. A scene I can not explain, but a story with desperate need to be told.
Being confronted with the enormous amounts of waste we produce on a daily basis is truly horrifying. Walking through fields of empty bottles, plastic bags, food leftovers and toys still brings me to tears. I lie awake at night, embarrassed to be part of our consumer society. We have to turn the tide. This story is not about storks anymore. It is about us. Look into the mirror and imagine all fables about storks being true. Well…than this is how WE threat new life, longevity…our future.
Dead stork on landfill site. Besides an easy foodsource the the ingestion of different materials collected during visits to landfill also causes digestive disorders and intoxications. Some birds eat rubber bands, sponges or other synthetic objects that snag in their digestive tracts and kill or sicken them.
Due to EU legislations on waste management that were introduced in 2016, many of these open landfill sites closed down. The future of the White Storks, who now for a large part depend on the food supplied through this hostile environment, remains unknown. Many scientist think there might be a decline in numbers as landfills have cause the stork population to go beyond the carrying capacity of the land. Others however think they will forage on invasive crayfish in the rice fields, causing another human-wildlife conflict.
Do we really want to continue like this? I don’t think it is a matter of will anymore…We have to change this around while we still can.
Why throw away something that could potentially put a smile on the face of a fellow human being? A relative, a friend, a child…
Dawn rises over the landfill in Beja. A landscape created by man. While exploring this ever changing land I was stunned by the amount of usable materials that were going to waste.
And this is me…portraying my anger on a soccer ball that was thrown away…It made me angry, it made me sad. Why throw away something that could potentially put a smile on the face of a fellow human being? I challenge you to make someone happy…
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