The Vulture's return; Community managed vulture safe zones in Nepal

Bird Conservation Nepal
Published: 28 September 2018
Last edited: 28 September 2018
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Summary

Gyps vultures nearly went extinct in South Asia in the late 1990s through widespread poisoning by diclofenac. The loss of vultures has resulted in the loss of the ecosystem service they provided – the efficient and safe disposal of carcasses. Vultures out-compete other scavengers; however, their numbers are now so low that they have been replaced by crucially less efficient and less safe scavengers such as dogs, rats etc. This has greatly increased the risk of disease, particularly rabies, and also increased the chances of contamination of water. To conserve these vultures, BCN established Vulture-Safe feeding Sites (VSFS) at Chitwan National park Nepal buffer zone . These are community-run initiatives looking after old and unwanted cattle until their natural death without the use of vulture-toxic NSAIDs to provide to the critically endangered vultures and the people benefit from direct and indirect income generation (sale of milk, hides, bones and manure or to seed micro-enterprises).

Classifications

Region
South Asia
Scale of implementation
National
Ecosystem
Forest ecosystems
Tropical deciduous forest
Theme
Indigenous people
Outreach & communications
Science and research
Species management
Sustainable financing
Hazards addressed
Land and forest degradation
Loss of biodiversity
Sustainable development goals
SDG 1 – No poverty
SDG 3 – Good health and well-being
Aichi targets
Target 1: Awareness of biodiversity increased
Target 2: Biodiversity values integrated
Target 11: Protected areas
Target 12: Reducing risk of extinction
Target 17: Biodiversity strategies and action plans

Location

Chitwan District, Narayani Zone, Nepal
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Challenges

 As vulture is not socially accepted creature among the Hindu community like in Nepal so it was not an easy task to raise awareness among the local communities on their importance and need of their engagement in their conservation. Hence the VSFS was named as "Jatayu restaurant" in Nepali since Jatayu is the vulture in Hindu mythology who saved the goddess Sita. The magic work Jatayu and also support of the local naturalist Dhan Bahadur Choudhary was very instrumental in engaging the local communities in the vulture conservation programme.

 

Our vulture recovery programme has used a combination of science, advocacy and community engagement to end the veterinary use of vulture-toxic NSAIDs.

 

For successfully restoring vulture populations our major focus are to empower communities and develop sustainable models to manage Vulture Safe Feeding Sites. 

Beneficiaries

Local communities managing the vulture restaurant and Namuna Bufferzone community forest user groups

How do the building blocks interact?

In our solution, we have a very targeted people (citizen scientists) who very clearly have experienced the population decline of the critically endangered vultures and also the problem of carcass disposal. This group of people are taken on board to  manage the community managed vulture safe zone. With the ownership of the management, this group of people have been very supportive in running the conservation programme for the critically endangered vultures. They are now fully recognised nationally and internationally for their pioneer work. 

 

Hence  the  power of knowledge and ownership have worked very well in our solution

Impacts

Hundreds of vultures and people alike have benefited from VSFS.   VSFS has set a very good example of community engagement and benefitting from a threatened species conservation  and providing good opportunity of learning to students, researchers and other communities.  There are over hundred nesting colonies and over 300 vultures of 6 different species feeding the carcass at a time. Over 50,000 national and international visitors have already visited the site. It is also recognised as one of the tourist site by the government and the tour operators. Learning from Nepal has been transferred to other vulture range countries in Asia like India, Pakistan and Bangladesh as well as Africa.  VSFS media coverage is among the highest is Nepal.  

Story

Bird Conservation Nepal

With known rapid decline of the critically endangered vultures, Bird Conservation Nepal (BCN) started regular monitoring of the species in the country since 2000 with support of its local partners and bird watchers. One of the good nesting colonies of the White rumped Vulture was in Nawalparasi monitored by Dhan Bahadur Chaudhary, nature guide by profession and also a community leader. In 2006, with funding from UNDP/SGP, BCN and the Namuna Community Forest User Groups pioneered the idea of vulture safe feeding sites popularly known as vulture “Jatayu” restaurant 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. This has led to the beginning of a recovery in populations of threatened vultures, and is being replicated elsewhere on the Sub-continent.

A vulture restaurant management committee has been established and coordinated by Dhan Bahadur Chaudhary. 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 addition to this inspiring conservation work the communities are 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.

Contributed by

Ishana Thapa