Vulture restaurants, also called Jatayu restaurants are designed to provide safe animal carcass to the endangered birds.
Imagine a restaurant serving animal carcass to its clients. Imagine, also, if this restaurant is flocked by tourists from across the world. That is the story of Nepal’s vulture restaurants, where vultures will take a seat at the high table.
These restaurants for vultures are called Jatayu restaurants, named after the much-venerated mythological vulture demi-god mentioned in the Hindu epic, the Ramayana. Communities living in Nepal’s northern border along the Tibet also revere them because the birds are central to their traditional form of cremations, the sky burials.
Vultures play an important ecological role by acting as nature’s scavengers. By gnawing at even the remotest crevice of carcass, they halt the spread of decaying bacteria and fungus from dead animal carcasses from seeping into the environment. In other words, the absence of vultures is a certain invitation to zoonotic diseases, including rabies, anthrax, tuberculosis and brucellosis.
They are now endangered throughout South Asia. Conservationists in Nepal have discovered that the vulture restaurants are a novel way of turning around their dwindling number. Visiting tourists pay to visit these restaurants and that helps pay for the vultures’ food.
The results are there to be seen. A vulture census count undertaken this year says that there were 2,312 individuals in the Himalayan country, 506 more than the previous year.
Nepal is home to nine of the 23 different species of the bird. Of these, three appear on the red list of critically endangered animals prepared by the International Union for Conservation of Nature.
Vultures do not proliferate fast. A female vulture lays just one egg a year and the chick has a longer immaturity duration after fledging.
But this is not the only reason behind the catastrophic decline. The dwindling numbers have also been attributed to the use of the non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drug (NSAIDs) diclofenac to which vultures highly susceptible. Veterinarians prescribe the drugs and farmers resort to buying the drug over the counter whenever they observe their animals are getting restless.
Vultures get exposed to diclofenac when they feed on the carcass of an animal that has been treated with diclofenac, 72 hours before its death. The drug is extremely toxic as it gets into the physiological system of the vultures and leads to their kidneys failure before they die of visceral gout.
The use of the drug for animals was banned in 2006. But farmers continued to buy large quantities of human doses of diclofenac and other similar NSAIDs from pharmacies.
How do the Jatayu restaurants work?
The first Jatayu restaurant was established in 2006 in Nepal’s Nawalpur district by conservationists. The community managed restaurants are a unique concept and an attraction for local and international tourists as part of promoting ecotourism. Today, Nepal has seven Jatayu restaurants.
Nepal’s farmers are donating their unproductive cows to the restaurants managements because these are often a burden. The management rears the cattle in gaushallas, or cow rescue centres. Farmers willingly give their cattle away to the cow rescue centre in the faith that their cattle are cared for in the last days of their lives. The cow rescue centre managements ensure that the cattle don’t consume NISDs while they spend their last days at the gaushalla. After the cattle dies, their carcass are fed to the vultures.
The cattle carcasses are placed at a designated dining area were vultures then come to feed. They are shielded by a hide from behind which, tourists observe them without causing them any disturbance. The restaurants attract resident as well as migrant vultures.