The Maharashtra government has launched a “restaurant” to save the vulture, nature’s most efficient scavenger. The 20-acre restaurant is located in the Fansad sanctuary in the Raigad district which is spread over 50 sq km.
“Dead animals – bullock, buffalo and cow – will be placed in the space to attract vultures. The area will not be manned by anybody to pave the way for the free movement of vultures from the adjoining areas,” said Assistant Forest Conservator R R Patil, who is one of the architects of the initiative along with Deputy Conservator Dilip Gujar.
Vulture population has fallen steeply in recent years. According to the government’s estimate, there are not more than 10,000 in the country at present. This has caused the problem of scavenging dead animals, especially in the countryside.
Vultures have died in large numbers in recent years from the consumption of diclofenac, a painkiller used on animals. Once they bite into an animal on which it has been used, the vultures die within 48 hours of renal failure. The team working on this project wants to ensure that dead animals with diclofenac are not brought to the restaurant. “We carry out a full examination of the animal and only then do we offer it to the vultures,” Patil said. Moreover, the government has put a ban on the use of this painkiller.
According to Patil, the experience has been quite satisfactory so far, as vultures have eaten two dead animals; the department has also found out that the vultures from the sanctuary have gone in for breeding. The challenge is to get dead animals for the restaurant. “We appeal to the villagers to hand over dead animals to them. They have started realising the importance of the movement, and we are hopeful of their active involvement,” he added.
Raju Kasambe, project manager, Important Bird Areas, an initiative launched by Bombay Natural History Society (BNHS), welcomed the forest department’s initiative. According to him, vultures have been cited in Tadoba, Navegaon, Nagzira, Nashik and the Western Ghats in Maharashtra. Vultures are in fact found in almost every state, but their population is dwindling fast. According to Kasambe, BNHS has already set up three artificial breeding centres in Harayana, Assam and West Bengal. About 18 fully-grown vultures have been bred in captivity and are ready for release.