Background: Vultures are the primary consumers of carrion in both Asia and Africa, they consume carcasses of both domestic and wild animals; thereby, cleaning the environment (Thakur et al.,2012). In the last 20 years, vulture numbers across South Asia have plummeted. Studies have shown that up to 99.9% of some species of vultures have been lost, this equates to about 40 million birds, leaving only an estimated 11,000 vultures left in the wild. Vultures play a vital role in our eco system, they are natures cleaners, feeding from the dead animals. Without them, millions of tonnes of animal carcass' would be left to rot causing health problems in humans.
The decline in Nepal’s vulture populations can be put down to one factor; Cows. Cows are sacred in Hindu culture and are not butchered for human consumption. When they become old or ill they are not euthanised and more often than not the cows are treated drugs.
In 2003, the cause of the catastrophic decline was discovered and was due to a veterinary drug called Diclofenac. Diclofenac is a non steroidal anti inflammatory that is administered to livestock such as cows and buffalo's to alleviate pain and suffering in sick or dying animals. Diclofenac is highly toxic to vultures, Vultures that feed from animal carcass's with Diclofenac in their system will quickly die from liver and kidney failure. this has brought Asia's vulture dangerously close to extinction.
The sale and distribution of Diclofenac was banned as a veterinary drug in 2006 and was replaced by the the vulture safe alternative, Meloxicam. For more than a decade there has been a global conservation to prevent the vultures extinction, banning the use of Diclofenac was only the first step to the vultures recovery.
One method of providing safety for Nepal’s vultures came in the form of Vulture Restaurants or otherwise known as Vulture Safe Feeding Sites (VSFS). A VSFS functions in a simple and very effective way; local communities are encouraged to sell or donate their elderly or sick livestock to the VSFS, the animal is well fed and looked after and when it dies the carcass is offered to the vultures to consume and dispose of, as nature intended. In theory the vultures have no need to venture into potentially unsafe zones where the NSAID may still be in circulation and use.
The Parahawking Project plays a vital role in funding and supporting a VSFS situated in Ghachok within the famous Annapurna Conservation Area. The facility consists of a very large stone-walled compound where the livestock has plenty of space to free roam. A well-built viewing hide was constructed for group visits and for scientists to conduct the research needed to preserve the delicate population of vultures in the area. The majority of Nepal’s nine vulture species regularly use the VSFS, the diverse landscape that surrounds the facility also plays hosts to a large number of active nest sites for vultures and could easily support more.
Through Parahawking flights, Bird of prey experiences, fundraising and donations we can provide everything the VSFS needs from supplementary foodstuffs the livestock may need, equipping the staff with essential tools and training workshops, this also includes paying the well deserved staff wages.
Vultures are vital to ecosystems and seeing them feed gives a greater understanding of their importance and role within the animal kingdom. Group excursions to the VSFS in Ghachok are available throughout the year but are dependant on available food for the vultures. We can sadly not guarantee sightings of vultures (though highly likely). We keep contact details of individuals currently visiting the area wanting to visit the VSFS and if possible arrange a visit when we can hopefully witness the amazing spectacle of the birds being fed.
“Share the Sky, Save the Vultures”