Until a few years ago, if any cattle died in the villages of Pithauli and Kawasoti of Nawalparasi, its disposal was chargeable and quite challenging. Otherwise, villagers had no way except to enduring the unpleasant odour wafting from the carcass for not days but months. Animals like jackals and stray dogs used to transport carrion of the dead animal here and there making the situation worse.
But, with the establishment of a Jatayu (vulture) restaurant here from the community-level, things are no more same. Vultures that fall into a group of a scavenging bird are widely reviled as dirty, ugly and the harbingers of bad luck. The Jatayu restaurant covers some wards of Pithauli and Kawasoti.
The restaurant set up by the local communities challenging this undeserved bad reputation of the birds has started getting an acclamation from the international community as well. This restaurant has become the identity of the entire village.
Chief of Department of Biological Diversity and Environment, Ministry of Forest, Dr Maheshwor Dhakal, shared that participating countries in the 2016 Hawaii IUCN (International Union for Conservation of Nature) World Conservation Congress applauded Nepal’s efforts undertaken to save the birds, which help to keep the environment clean by disposing of carrion, from extinction, pledging to follow on Nepal’s footsteps in this regard.
The number of people visiting Chitwan that adjoins to Nawalparasi has significantly increased with the establishment of a vulture restaurant in a model community forest lying along the buffer zone of Chitwan National Park (CNP) which covers areas of Chitwan, Nawalparasi, Parsa and Makwanpur. People arrive here not only to see vultures but also for study and research about the birds.
Increase in the arrivals of tourists has contributed to the improvement of the livelihood of the locals, said chair of Namuna (model) Buffer Zone Community Forest Users Group, Baliram Mahato.
The establishment of a vulture restaurant that stretches to around 415 hectares of land has contributed to vulture conservation by providing the safe zone to the birds along with the environment protection.
There are abundant potentialities in hand to develop the restaurant into a tourist destination.
This restaurant is presently home to world’s five rare species of vultures and lies in a distance of four kilometers away from Kawasoti along the Narayangadh-Butwal road section. With the development of physical infrastructure for the vulture conservation, various organizations here now have implemented various income-generating and public awareness-increasing programmes on the importance of the vulture’s existence in ecology, targeting locals.
Preparations are on to formulate a 10-year master plan to develop the restaurant as a model in terms of the conservation of forest and bio diversities, according to restaurant management committee chair DB Chaudhary.
Entry fee for foreign tourists visiting the restaurant is Rs 500 per head while domestic tourists are charged just Rs 50 per head. The restaurant decided to raise entry fee just for its better management and sustainability. Merely some Rs 70 thousands is collected in a year through the sale of bones and skin left out of dead animals that are fed to vultures and this amount was far less to run the restaurant.
In the beginning, the locals had not entertained the idea of setting up a vulture restaurant here as they believed that it would pollute the environment and worsen the situation. The situation has changed and they have been working hand in hand in the efforts at conserving the natural scavengers, Chaudhary shared.
The restaurant, an outcome of initiations from the Bird Conservation Nepal and efforts of the locals, was initially supported by the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds, UK.
The United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) the Global Environment Facility’s Small Grants Programme is providing economic and technical assistance for its operation.
Buffer zone people are being made aware of the vital role of vultures in balancing the ecosystem, and other various programmes have been conducted for their conservation.
Programme national coordinator Gopal Raj Sherchan said the vulture restaurant is a testament that simultaneous implementation of biodiversity conservation efforts and livelihood improvement activities based on a community –based approach would yield a good result and bring about positive changes in the society.
A cattle farm has been set up where old cattle are brought, and given proper care until they die naturally. More when they are alive, they are treated with safe drugs to washout diclofenac residues from their bodies. Once they die, their bodies are given to vultures to feed on.
“Before the establishment of the vulture restaurant, it used to cost Rs 200-400 to manage or dispose of the dead body of an animal, but now the situation is contrary as the dead cattle generates income up to Rs 500 to its owner, and more it has been contributing to keep the environment clean,” nature guide Homnath Gautam said.
The rapid consumption of carcasses by vultures helps prevent the risk of various sorts of diseases as well.
The world had realised the need of immediate measures to conserve the birds following the disappearing of vultures at an alarming rate.
The use of veterinary drug called diclofenac which is widely used in the treatment of livestock in Asia is found to be one of the reasons for a dramatic fall in the vulture populations. This anti-inflammatory drug is lethal to this bird. Vultures feeding on carcasses of animals treated with this drug suffer kidney failure and die after a few days. The government has banned the import of this drug since June 6, 2006 and so far 56 districts have been declared as dicolfenace-free zones.
There are 23 species of vultures across the world and Nepal is home to nine species. Of them, white-rumped vultures and slender-billed vultures are critically endangered here.
Likewise, the population of Bearded Vulture (Lammergeier), Egyptian Griffon, Himalayan Griffon, European Griffon, cinereous and red-headed has dwindled in the recent years.
Nepal continues to keep efforts aimed at conserving the vultures. Breeding Center for Vultures was established in 2008 at Kasara area along the CNP to conserve the birds.
The success of this restaurant prompted the establishment of this type of restaurant in Gaidahawa Pond of Rupandehi, Lalmatiya and Bijauri of Dang, Khutiya of Kailali, Ghachok of Kaski and Ramdhuni of Sunsari.
There are over 300 restaurants opened across the world, 200 alone in the South Africa, to conserve vultures, but this is the ever first restaurant in Asia run by the community. Translated by Pabitra Guragain
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