On The Edge
They are mother nature’s clean-up crew – Vultures.
Many people shudder at the mere thought of them, because they’re ‘ugly’, eat dead things, and are just not quite as cute as endangered pandas, or as majestic as endangered tigers.
In Nepal and Pakistan, 99.9% of the entire vulture population has vanished in the last 20 years. 100 Million vultures, gone.
There’s a drug called diclofenac, it’s used to treat aches and muscle pains in humans, but has also been applied to animals, working cows and buffalos, because it’s relatively cheap, and makes the animal feel better and lets the farmer get on with his work.
The cow is, however, still sick and dies, anyway. The carcass will soon be spotted by vultures. If vultures eat meat of an animal that has been treated with diclofenac, it stops their kidneys from working, and they die.
The loss of 100 million vultures in Nepal and Pakistan has HUGE implications for the area – a vulture eats dead stuff, and if there are no vultures, nobody eats the dead stuff. Well, feral dogs do. So the population of feral dogs has, naturally, exploded because there’s an abundance of food for them. They, in contrast to the vultures, are not afraid of humans, and will roam the streets and villages, posing a threat to the people living there.
It’s not a good situation.
And not many people are actually aware that this is happening. Until I started volunteering at the Burren Birds of Prey Centre, I had no idea. The falconers working at the centre are involved with the VultureRescue (www.vulturerescue.org), an organization set up to provide safe, diclofenac-free food to vultures. The people working with VultureRescue set up ‘vulture restaurants’, buying old cows and buffalo off the farmers (from as little as 1 or 2 euro), letting the animal die naturally, and then leaving it out for the vultures. In the areas with those ‘restaurants’, the vulture population is increasing again, slowly.
So it’s working, which is fantastic.
They have also set up breeding centres – because of the endangered status of the vultures, it has become necessary to bring several species into captivity to ensure their survival, and to breed young birds in a safe environment to be released into the wild.
In those breeding centres, the members of staff at the BBoP are training the staff in raptor husbandry – flying out to Nepal approx. once a year, paying for it out of their own pocket, and with donations from the public. There’s a big donation box in the centre, if you’re there, please give what you can.
For 2011, I will be selling a calendar with 12 beautiful shots of the residents at the Burren Birds of Prey Centre, and all profits (ca. 5 € per calendar) will go directly towards the conservation work carried out by the BBoP Centre. More on that soon, keep an eye out.