I have been to this place several times, but my last trip to the Nawalparasi district in Nepal, 100 km south west of Kathmandu, the capital city, in 2012, was different. I was filled with curiosity and excitement about this trip because I was going to visit a restaurant. This restaurant, unlike an ordinary restaurant to which people go for good food and ambiance, is completely different because it has a unique clientele base- vulture. Vultures are identified as critically endangered scavengers of Nepal, India and Pakistan. It is the world’s first community-managed vulture restaurant and information center.
Vultures are a keystone species in the terrestrial ecosystem, providing a significant ecosystem service by disposing of carcasses. They are also culturally important birds. According to Hindu mythology, vultures fought to free Sita- the wife of god-king Rama- from the clutches of demons. Similarly, vultures are central to the Buddhist funeral practice called ‘sky burial’, where a human body is kept in an open space to be fed by vultures.
Despite their ecological and cultural importance, vultures are now critically endangered….
Vultures usually nest in large tall Bombax trees (Bobax ceiba). Their population declined across the region in the first half of the twentieth century but remained steady in the Indian subcontinent, because of the abundant supply of livestock carcasses. Until a couple of decades ago, there were more than 50,000 nesting pairs in Nepal. Unfortunately, its population has declined by 90 % since 2000 and currently there are only about 500 nesting pairs. There are several factors that have contributed to the vulture’s population decline in Nepal. Firstly, habitat has been lost due to the felling of Bombax trees for veneer and matches stick production. Secondly, diclofenac- a veterinary drug used to treat livestock- is another culprit. Farmers use diclofenac to cure inflammation in cattle. Once these cattle die, their carcasses are usually kept in an open space. Unfortunately, many vultures who feed on these livestock carcasses treated with diclofenac, succumb to renal failure. As a consequence, their population has rapidly dropped. Four species of vulture: White-rumped vulture (Gyps bengalensis), Indian vulture (Gyps indicus), Slender-billed vulture (Gyps tenuirostris), and Red-headed vulture (Sarcogyps calvus) are enlisted as critically endangered; and one species: Egyptian vulture (Neophron percnopterus) is listed as an endangered species on the IUCN list.
People are smart, something new happened to save vultures……
Realizing the ill-effects of diclofenac on this beautiful creature of nature, conservation advocates including Bird Conservation Nepal (BCN) and local communities have successfully lobbied the government of Nepal to ban the use of diclofenac. As a result, its use has been banded by the government of Nepal since 2006. Then in 2007, BCN came up with a new and innovative idea to establish a restaurant for vultures. They discussed this idea with the local communities in Nawalparasi. Enthusiastic and vulture loving local communities cordially appreciated the idea and agreed to establish the vulture restaurant. Its main objective was to feed vultures safe carcasses. Other non-government organizations (NGOs) including the World Wild Life Fund (WWF), the Royal Society of Bird Protection (RSBP), and Global Environmental Facility (GEF) have also supported the local community to establish the restaurant.
The World’s first community-managed vulture restaurant……
The vulture restaurant was formally established in 2007 by the local communities in collaboration with BCN and other NGOs. It became the worlds’ first community managed vulture feeding center. Old cattle, donated by the local people, are kept in the vulture feeding center until they die. Often the cattle are purchased at a minimal price. They are also checked to ensure the cattle have not been treated with diclofenac. Once the cattle die, teams of volunteers serve the carcasses to the vulture in an open area in the jungle. Bones and hides of the cattle are then sold at the local market. Revenue generated from the sale is instrumental for the maintenance of the restaurant.
Results are seen…..
The community effort, with support of NGOs, has produced results. In 2006, prior to the establishment of the restaurant, there were less than 20 nests around Nawalparasi. Now, in 2012, five years later, there are more than 70 nests. The synergistic community development goals and community action with the biodiversity conservation efforts of NGOs have led to the vulture restaurant becoming a success story for vulture conservation and a popular destination for both domestic and international tourists. More importantly, this model has been replicated in other part of the country. In 2013 there have been six more vulture restaurants established to feed the vulture safe carcasses.
Wow, what an innovative idea! This project shows how effective community participation can be. Why not to replicate it in the other parts of the world? I would like to dedicate this blog to those who have been tirelessly working to save an important bird in the ecosystem, THE VULTURE!Dipak Bishwokarma (firstname.lastname@example.org) is from Nepal and doing Master of Forestry (Research) at The Australian National University. He has keen interest on the participatory biodiversity conservation.
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