Raptor Health Scotland
Studying the health of Scottish raptors by looking at diseases and environmental factors associated with their decline.
Who am I?
I am Gaby Peniche, a conservation biologist interested in understanding our ecosystem and finding ways to address loss of biological diversity.
I was born in Mexico, grew up surrounded by animals and my biologist Dad’s love for nature, both of which influenced my interest in conservation of our world and my decision to study ecology. I later, qualified as a veterinary nurse in Australia in an attempt to understand more about health and diseases of wildlife. Before coming to Edinburgh, I was based at London Zoo where I completed a Wildlife Biology MSc and then worked for almost 10 years with native endangered species at the Institute of Zoology, Zoological Society of London.
To read more about my previous work visit https://www.zsl.org/science/meet-our-scientists/meet-our-scientists-gabriela-peniche.
Follow me on twitter: @Raptorscotland
What do I do in Scotland?
I am assessing the health of birds of prey and using this as an indication of our ecosystem’s health. This research forms my PhD research.
The changes our environment is facing with the growth in human population combined with modern agricultural practices has meant we have lost key species such as wolves and bears. The loss of these predator species has resulted in increased pressure from high populations of deer and sheep resulting in vegetation changes that do not favour native wildlife species.
These alterations to the environment may result in an increase in disease, chemicals such as fertilizers, drug residues and heavy metals in the environment. Many of these chemicals end up in water bodies, are then absorbed by plants and later eaten by primary consumers. When these primary consumers are eaten by predators, the chemicals accumulate and eventually concentrate in predators at the top of food chains, such as birds of prey. For these reasons, birds of prey are good indicators of the health of our environment.
In order to understand how the above factors are affecting our environment, I am analysing live and dead birds of prey to assess their health and the levels of toxins they may be carrying. I then compare these measurements to variations in the environment and land use around Scotland with a view to creating a tool to help monitor land management and conservation practices.
How do I do it?
1) I climb birds of prey nests with help from members of the Scottish Raptor Sturdy Group (SRSG) http://www.scottishraptorstudygroup.org/ and Scottish Raptor Monitoring Scheme (SRMS) http://raptormonitoring.org/ to obtain blood from golden eagle chicks. This allows me to learn about their nutritional state, toxins, diet, etc.
2) I conduct post-mortem examinations of Scottish dead birds of prey to learn about the factors contributing to their death (electrocutions, persecution, lack of food, etc.). If you find any dead birds of prey anywhere in Scotland please let me know using the contact details below.
To achieve my goals I am collaborating with several organisations. Links to my collaborators can be found at the bottom of this page.
http://www.eaglecouriers.co.uk/ Eagle Couriers are providing support with low cost courier services which means there is no costs for submitters to send samples for post mortem examination.
https://sites.google.com/site/ewdawebsite/ The European Wildlife Disease Association is partially funding costs of laboratory tests
My tuition and living expenses are funded through a scholarship awarded by NERC CASE partnership involving the University of Edinburgh and SNH http://www.snh.gov.uk/
IF YOU FIND A DEAD BIRD OF PREY
Any raptor carcass found where persecution is suspected should be reported to the Police: http://www.gov.scot/Topics/Environment/Wildlife-Habitats/paw-scotland/what-you-can-do, with SSPCA and RSPB helping with the collection of carcases.
To report a wildlife crime you can telephone the non-emergency 101 number and ask to speak to the WCLO for your region or a local Wildlife Crime Officer in the division if one is available. The 101 number should be used to contact the police when you don’t need an emergency response. In an emergency always dial 999 – when a life is in danger, a crime is in progress or a suspect is nearby.
- Any raptor carcass that is a non-suspicious case (e.g. trauma, electrocutions, found close to a busy thoroughfare, etc.) please submit the body to me. I will then coordinate distribution of samples to other collaborators.
Be careful to avoid direct contact with the carcass when handling it as this could have toxins or pathogens that could affect you. Protect your hands when picking it up and wash your hands thoroughly afterwards
- Please record the location (NGR if possible) where you found the bird
- Pack the bird in two plastic bags, each tightly closed (i.e. one inside the other)
- Please provide information about the bird (date, species, location found and any other relevant information) and place this between the two bags.
Please keep the carcass cool and shaded, away from the reach of children or animals.
For details of packaging/courier and forms to submit with the samples please contact: Gabriela.Peniche@roslin.ed.ac.uk. Office phone: 0131 650 7683
Scottish Natural Heritage - http://www.snh.gov.uk/
SASA - https://www.sasa.gov.uk/
Predatory Bird Monitoring Scheme - https://wiki.ceh.ac.uk/display/pbms/Home
University of the Highlands and Islands - https://www.uhi.ac.uk/en
Scotland's Rural College - http://www.sruc.ac.uk/
Royal Society for the Protection of Birds - https://ww2.rspb.org.uk/whatwedo/scotland/