Conserving vultures for healthier environment
July 2010; The number of vanishing vulture population has been increasing in Nawalparasi after the establishment of community managed Vulture Restaurant. The average number of vultures arriving per feed increased from 54 in 2007 to 82 in 2008 and 116 in 2009. Likewise, the number of nests in the surrounding areas increased every year from 17 (2006/07) to 33 (07/08), to 46 (08/09) and 68 (09/10).
"Of all the vulture colonies being monitored in South Asia in 2007/08, it was the only colony to register an increase in nest numbers", says Mr. Anand Chaudhary, Vulture Conservation Programme Officer of Bird Conservation Nepal (BCN). 'In the restaurant, 7 out of 8 species of vultures found in Nepal can be seen in the restaurant', he adds. Only the himalayan vulture cannot be seen in this terai region.
The number of vultures have plummeted at an alarming rate in South Asia over the past decade. The oriental white-rumped vulture population has declined by 99.9% over the last 15-years and so have the other species. Scientists have identified the principal cause of vulture decline as extensive use of veterinary drug 'diclofenac' on cattle to reduce pain and swelling.
In 2007, the UNDP GEF Small Grants Programme supported the BCN to establish the first community managed Jatayu (Vulture) Restaurant near Kawasoti in Nawalparasi district, along the buffer zone of Chitwan National Park. The aim is to provide safe food for vultures close to their existing breeding colony.
The project supported the establishment of 'Cow Rescue Centre' where old and dying cows are brought and provided treatment with vulture friendly meloxicam until their natural death. After dehyding the skin of the naturally dead cow, the carcass is fed to vultures in the vulture restaurant.
A Vulture Information Centre and a Hide to view vultures feeding on carcass were also constructed to attract visitors and spread the importance of the existence of vultures in nature. Vultures are natural purifiers of the environment. In their absence, the population of feral dogs, rats, crows and other inefficient scavengers would increase which in turn would increase the risk of rabies, plague, anthrax and other animal borne diseases.
"Use of diclofenac is not allowed in Nepal but the ban is largely ignored. Thus we are closely monitoring the use diclofenac in veterinary drug stores and are swapping it with a vulture safe meloxicam", said Ms Ishana Thapa, conservation officer of BCN. The swapping of drugs is supported the Royal Society for Protection of Birds (UK based) and Critical Ecosystem Partnership Fund (CEPF) and partially by SGP.
The vulture restaurant has also contributed to income generation of local people. They collect tourist entrance fee and donations, sell hides, bones, compost manure and promotional merchandises such as vulture t-shirts and badges. " But above all we are very proud to pioneer such an unique endeavour in conserving vulture in our buffer zone community forest and equally grateful for the recognition we are getting from local, national and international audience", said Mr Suk Bahadur Gurung, chairperson of Namuna Bufferzone Community Forest.
Similar efforts have been replicated in 5 other sites in Nepal and also in Pakistan. It has also played a key role in designing the in-site conservation activities for Government's Vulture Conservation Action Plan for Nepal 2009-2013.
While community initiation has been successful in conserving the vanishing vultures , we still need greater efforts, awareness and action to control the spread of diclofenac in South Asia.