Thursday, May 3, 2012

There Are Vulture Restaurants in India, Nepal, and Pakistan

Photo Credit: Petra Karstedt (via Wikimedia Commons)
If you ever take a trip to India, Nepal, or Pakistan, you can visit a "vulture restaurant." No, a vulture restaurant isn't a place where those who enjoy adventurous eating can sample vulture curry. It's a place where the critically endangered White-rumped and Slender-billed vultures can fill up on safe meat.

Twenty years ago, populations of these vultures were doing fine. There were 50,000 nesting pairs of the two types of vultures in Nepal alone. The numbers have since dropped sharply, and now there are only around 500 pairs. Hem Sagar Baral of the Nepalese Ornithological Union said that if things don't improve, both species could be extinct in ten years.

It's believed that the decline is partially due to habitat loss (a reason we see over and over again when animals become endangered), and partially due to a drug called diclofenac that is often used to treat inflammation in cattle. While generally safe for the cattle, this medication is deadly to vultures. If a vulture eats the meat of an animal that had been treated with diclofenac, he can go into kidney failure, which ultimately ends in death. The drug has since been banned and a different anti-inflammatory drug that is safe for vultures (meloxicam) is being produced. However, some people still use diclofenac for their animals.

A few years ago, Bird Conservation Nepal had a great idea - to open up "restaurants" for the vultures! The idea slowly caught on, and now there are a handful of feeding stations and plans for more. So far, the stations have been successful, for many villagers as well as the birds. Authorities pay villagers for their dead diclofenac-free cattle, and the restaurants draw paying tourists. As far as the vultures, the number of nesting pairs near the Pithauli station has grown from 17 to 46. A captive breeding program has also been started in the Chitwan National Park, so it looks like there's a good chance for a comeback!


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