Himalayan Griffon at Vulture Restaurant, Nawalparasi, Nepal. Photo by Sagar Giri. Used with permission.
They are big, ugly, and have a bad reputation. Although vultures have been at the center of a love-hate relationship with humans — they are also our natural allies.
Vultures are mostly carrion eaters and are a major part of the natural process of death in the wild. By devouring large amounts of flesh, these large birds help limit the spread of bacteria and disease that can otherwise spread from the decaying animal bodies.
However, despite their important role as buffers against the potential spread of illnesses, they are often regarded as more of a pest than an important bird.
As a 2007 survey in India shows, the population of oriental white-backed vultures (Gyps bengalensis) had fallen to 0.1% of its numbers in the early 1990s.
In 2009, western Nepal saw its population of oriental white-backed vultures fall by 25% since 2002.
Likewise, the population of long-billed vultures (Gyps indicus) and slender-billed vultures (Gyps tenuirostris) also declined drastically throughout the Indian subcontinent. Unfortunately, this trend is not only happening in South Asia, vulture numbers are decreasing worldwide due to less food availability, collision with man-made structures, and poisoning among others.
To combat this decline, some countries have proposed an interesting conservation plan to bring their numbers back up — Jatayu restaurants, or restaurants for vultures.
To conserve vulture populations, vulture feeding stations have been set up in a number of different Asian countries such as Cambodia, India, Pakistan and Nepal. In Nepal, the feeding stations are managed by the nearby communities and have been dubbed Jatayu restaurants, named after the revered character in the Hindu epic Ramayana and the vulture’s Sanskrit name, Jatayu.
These restaurants source old and unproductive cattle from farmers and take care of the animals until they die at the animal old-age center. People happily handover their old, unproductive cattle to these restaurants because the animals are well taken care of at the end of their lives.