When you see a large classified ad of ‘Jatayu Restaurant’ for the very first time, you are more likely to mistake it as an eatery place. It is only realized later that the restaurant is for vultures (Kings of birds) not for human beings. Named after a Hindu vulture god-Jatayu, Jatayu restaurant is essentially a conservational site established to provide safe food for vultures and save them from the brink of extinction. Popularly known as Vulture restaurant, it is an idyllic place for travelers, tourists and bird enthusiasts to watch critically endangered birds in the wild, photograph them in the cameras and observe their behavioral aspects.
According to the research, the five species of vultures are among nine which have declined up to 99.9% in the last two decades and the fall in their population has been linked to an anti-inflammatory drug used by farmers to treat domestic livestock. Residues of the drug in animal carcasses poisoned the vultures in large numbers hence; the sight of vultures circling overhead or feasting on animal carcasses has become rare in the last decades. However, by advocating ban on the use of diclofinac and untested veterinary drugs and the setting up of safe feeding centers for vultures, the Bird Conservation Nepal (BCN) and a consortium member of Saving Asia’s Vultures from Extinction (SAVE) are working jointly with local communities to reverse the declines of vultures. The 6 feeding centers have been established in the different districts of Nepal and the result is the dramatic increase in the numbers of the bird of prey. These communities run sanctuaries provide vulture conservation activities in the area where vultures dine for free and also shed a rescue center where the cattles outgrown their productive age are sheltered, given food and good care until their natural death. After the death, they are skinned out at a designated dinning place and fed at the restaurant to the vultures.
Similarly, Jatayu restaurant contains a viewing house with little viewing windows where visitors can hide and watch the fest. If the visitors reach the restaurant on a fortunate day when there is a recent release of fresh carcass, they can see the vultures landing up nearby, flying over and closer to the carcass, taking a rip at the tasty meal and enjoy a true “Feeding Frenzy”. While some other may wait for few days to hear squawking and screaming of the birds and to encounter such an event when the hundreds of legendary beasts line up devouring everything from the bones. Just after couple of minutes of feeding, the vultures fly away and visitors are left alone with only a pile of clean, white bones and the feeling of bareness. The feasting scene can be a sight of horror with bloody and fleshy carcass for the lighthearted people; however, for others it can be an exotic experience of sharing a meal at the vulture restaurant.
The vulture feeding restaurant also houses a meeting/training hall, providing information on diverse aspects of these majestic creatures and the conservation efforts carried out to safeguard them. In addition to this, the centre also features collected fauna specimen, others birds, mammals and natural history of area, offers training such as specimen collection and preservation for biodiversity museum management and cow rescue centre management at the community level and conducts various training, conservation education and different awareness activities to encourage active participation of local people in conservation and generate a positive attitude towards vulture conservation. For promoting the research on vulture conservation and grooming students as vulture conservationists, the Bird Conservation Nepal also provides Jatayu scholarship to university graduates.
The joint effort of SAVE, BCN and local community has conserved the decreasing numbers of vultures and the sight of vultures circling overhead or feasting on animal carcasses has been more visible in the recent years. With the awareness of vulture restaurants, the number of tourists visiting restaurants has increased significantly. The local community welcomes every visitor offering home stay facilities, allowing them to be the part of their own culture and religion and those who want to stay in the luxurious hotels can enjoy the comfortable accommodation close by vulture restaurants.
Every species has niche in the ecosystem as we all are connected with each other in the natural world and contribute to each other’s existence. Vultures are ‘Keystone’ scavengers who are highly specialized to rapidly dispose of large carcasses and play the most significant role in nutrient cycling, leading other scavengers to carcasses and reducing the risk of contamination, rabies and live stock born diseases like anthrax. But in the recent years, the decline of the vultures is increasing rapidly which may lead to a decline in the diversity of species scavenging at carcasses. Being the most intelligent creatures on the earth, it is our moral duty to look after the environment and ensure that every species has the right to live harmoniously with the environment.