Vulture (Jatayu) Restaurant and Conservation Approach in Nepal-BCN Documentary
9 June 2015
Vultures play a highly important ecological role through the rapid consumption of animal carcasses. They also have an important cultural role in the consumption of human dead bodies in sky burials within Nepal and Tibet.
Out of nine species of vultures, five species of vultures in Asia are in grave danger of extinction across the Indian subcontinent. Populations of White-rumped Gyps bengalensis, Long-billed G. indicus and Slender-billed Vultures G. tenuirostris have declined by more than 99% in India (Prakash et al. 2003; Pain et al. 2004) and Pakistan and annual rates of decline appear to be increasing. Further two more species of vultures, Red-headed Vulture and Egyptian Vulture have rapidly declined in the recent years (Cuthbert et al. 2006). Due to these declines, all five species are now listed threatened by IUCN – The International Union for Conservation of Nature. Except Egyptian Vulture which is listed as Endangered all other four are listed as Critically Endangered which is the highest threat category. In Nepal White-rumped Vultures have been declined over 91% till 2003 (Baral et al. 2004) and declined by 91% till 2011 (Chaudhary et al. 2011).
The cause of these declines has been shown to be the veterinary drug diclofenac (Oaks et al. 2004, Swarup et al. 2007), which is widely used to treat livestock in Asia. Vultures are exposed to diclofenac by feeding on livestock carcasses which contain residues of this drug. A post-mortem examination of dead or dying birds from India and Nepal showed a high incidence of diclofenac residues and visceral gout (Shultz et al. 2004). The result of mathematical modeling is consistent with the observed rate of population decline. Models indicate that only a small proportion (1 in 130) of carcasses contaminated with lethal levels of diclofenac can cause the observed vulture mortality rate (Green et al. 2004).
In order to halt the decline of these critically endangered birds, Government of Nepal put ban on production, import and use of veterinary diclofenac in June 2006 and endorsed Vulture Conservation Action Plan for Nepal (2009-13) in 2009. Vulture Conservation Action Plan for Nepal (2009-2013) is a part of the greater effort of the Government of Nepal to conserve and consolidate the conservation initiatives for all vulture species found in Nepal. The main objective of Vulture Conservation Action Plan is to prevent the extinction of vulture species by ensuring re-introduction, safe food supply, maintenance of suitable habitat and better understanding of the ecological importance of these birds in Nepal with a goal to revive viable population of vultures in the wild. Vulture Conservation and Breeding Centre was established on 2008 in partnership of Department of National Park and Wildlife Conservation (DNPWC), National Trust for Nature Conservation (NTNC) and Bird Conservation Nepal (BCN).
Bird Conservation Nepal has been supporting this Vulture Conservation Action Plan through integrated approach to conserve vultures in Nepal which involves scientific research, advocacy, sensitization, monitoring the use of NSAIDs, the collection of veterinarian pledges to stop using diclofenac and the operation of six vulture safe feeding sites. Within this line BCN has initiated projects under Vulture Conservation Programme. Under these projects a range of conservation action including in-situ and ex-situ measures has been implemented to support Vulture Conservation Programme.
9 Jan 2018
Award for vulture restaurant pioneer whose work helps poor farmers
This 2017 Nature’s Hero, nominated by Bird Conservation Nepal, pioneered safe feeding areas which have led to the beginning of a recovery in populations of threatened vultures.
By Nick Langley
One of BirdLife’s 2017 Nature’s Heroes nominated by Bird Conservation Nepal pioneered safe feeding areas which have led to the beginning of a recovery in populations of threatened vultures, and are being replicated elsewhere on the Sub-continent. The work he began is now helping with the conservation of grassland birds and mammals, delivering sustainable livelihoods to communities including excluded castes, and providing a happy (and eventually useful) retirement and death for cows which have reached the ends of their productive lives.
Dhan Bahadur Chaudhary is a community leader, and coordinator of Nepal’s first community-managed Vulture Safe Feeding Site (popularly known as the Jatayu Vulture Restaurant) which was established in 2006 in Pithauli, Nawalparasi.
Bird Conservation Nepal and the local people of the Namuna Community Forest User Groups pioneered the idea of vulture safe feeding sites in response to the catastrophic decline of formerly common vulture species because of the widespread contamination of cattle carcasses with the veterinary drug diclofenac. The Jatayu restaurant provides safe food close to an existing vulture breeding colony.
Since the beginning, in collaboration with Bird Conservation Nepal, Dhan Bahadur Chaudhary, a life member of the BirdLife Partner Organisation, has led the Jatayu Restaurant Management Committee. The committee arranges to collect old and unproductive cattle from the nearby villages, and takes them to a Cow Rescue Centre, where they are looked after. Following their natural deaths, their carcasses are laid out for vultures at the Jatayu restaurant.
A Vulture Information Centre, and a hide from which feeding vultures can be viewed, attract visitors, and spread knowledge of the importance of vultures in maintaining a healthy environment, free of decaying carcasses and associated infections and pests such as feral dogs. In addition to conserving vultures, the vulture restaurant provides sustainable livelihoods through ecotourism. Dhan Bahadur Chaudhary has played key role in promoting ecotourism integrated with the culture of local indigenous people and the biodiversity of the area.
“In rural Nepal, a popular pastime for many young boys was playing with homemade catapults, becoming such good shots that they injured and killed many birds”, explains BCN’s Krishna Prasad Bhusal. “In his teenage years, Dhan Bahadur Chaudhary encouraged the boys in his community to put down their catapults, and offered them an alternative. Instead of shooting birds, learn about them. In time they too became interested and passionate about the bird species found in their neighbourhood. They even started bringing injured and sick birds they had found, and together they treated them as best they could and released them back where they found them.”
Now grown up, Chaudhary and his friends have established a Community Learning Centre where students and other people can come and expand their knowledge about vulture conservation, sustainability and wildlife ecology. “At times it has been a struggle to get everyone on board, but now we feel in a positive and united place for biodiversity conservation,” Krishna Prasad Bhusal says.
The success of the Jatayu venture has inspired other Nepali communities to establish vulture restaurants, in Gaidahawa, Rupendehi, Lalmatiya and Bijauri of Dang, Khutiya, Kailali, Ghachok, Kaski and Ramdhuni, and Sunsari. “All these restaurant sites have shown a positive result, with increases in vulture numbers, and have spread the message of vulture conservation.”
Over 217 vultures have been counted around a single carcass at one time. Between 2007 and 2010, Bird Conservation Nepal recorded a 150% increase in the populations of four globally threatened vultures species, and nesting by White-rumped Vulture in the area has increased by over 200%. This achievement was formally recognised in 2010, when the work was awarded the prestigious WWF Abraham Conservation Award. Vulture-safe restaurants are now being replicated elsewhere on the Subcontinent, including in India and Pakistan.
The community involved in the Jatayu scheme have also cleared invasive plant species from around the site, resulting in the regeneration of grasses, which is helping the conservation of the Critically Endangered Bengal Florican, and provided improved habitat for other birds and large herbivorous mammals including deer and rhino. More recently they have been developing conservation initiatives within wetland areas, focused on improving wildlife habitats. “Rhinos, spotted deer, barking deer, peacocks and thrushes all need grasslands for their survival” says Krishna Prasad Bhusal. “If the grasslands are healthy and full of prey, the tiger will come to the grasslands to hunt.”
The Jatayu Restaurant initiative benefits humans and domestic animals as well as wildlife.
The ethnic Tharu community and the surrounding villages are predominately of the Hindu faith, and so consider their cattle holy. Since they cannot be used for meat, they are kept until they die a natural death, which takes up valuable farming space, and drains resources and money from the already impoverished families. The Jatayu Restaurant buys the old and dying cattle for 250-NRS a head. They are then housed and fed in the specially designed Cow Hospice in the grasslands of the Community Forest, until they die naturally.
“The beauty of this project is that, simply, it benefits everyone”, explains Krishna Prasad Bhusal.
“Low-income farming families have the pressure of keeping an ailing cow removed and receive money towards their next cow, while the vultures benefit by having a frequent food source in a safe, protected environment. Dhan Bahadur Chaudhary has developed a working relationship with men and women from the excluded Mushahar caste on a number of riverine grassland and wetland management initiatives in the Namuna Buffer Zone Community Forest. Activities such as these not only provide a source of livelihood for local communities, but also make them more receptive to the principles of biodiversity conservation.”
Dumrithumka Adarsh Mahila—their name translates, roughly, as “the exemplary women of Dumrithumka”. The improvements to health and living standards they have brought about have inspired neighbouring forest villages to follow their example. At the same time, the transformation of habitat quality in the forests they manage has led Bird Conservation Nepal (BCN) to recognise them as BirdLife Nature’s Heroes: here.