The Gadchiroli forest division has come up with the unique idea of feeding the scavenger population to save them from the brink of extinction

With the winged scavengers teetering on the brink of extinction, innovative measures are being undertaken to save the vultures. In a bid to conserve the fast dwindling vulture population, Gadchiroli forest division has established ‘Vulture Restaurants'. These restaurants are located strategically with a regular supply of safe food by collecting dead animals from local people.

These birds play an important ecological role through the rapid consumption of animal carcasses. The loss of a major scavenger from the ecosystem has already started affecting the balance between populations of other scavenging species and/or result in increase in putrefying carcasses. This has resulted in associated disease risks for wildlife, livestock and humans.

Presently there are three ‘Vulture Restaurants' in Gadchiroli forest division at Marakbodi, Madetukum and Nimgaon. Also, machans are constructed near Yeoli and Navegaon to provide safe food and to protect the dead carcass from stray dogs. People inform the forest department in case of the death of an animal in their village and the department after testing the dead animal and paying monetary benefits to the owner of the animal and informer transports it to the vulture restaurant. Apart from this, whenever a vulture nesting is found, conservation measures like providing safe food near nesting trees, constant protection from all sorts of disturbances, etc., are put in place without delay.

Anthropogenic disturbances leading to destruction of suitable roosting and nesting trees as well as disturbance have a marked impact on vultures and their survival. The general public is ignorant of the ecological importance of vultures. Conservation efforts cannot be successful without the active involvement of local communities. Economic incentives could be one of the means to attract local communities to this endeavour. So in-situ conservation efforts, in combination with awareness programmes, may play an important role in conservation of remaining population of vultures. The involvement of local communities in in-situ conservation is having dual benefits to vultures and to our society. There is a three-pronged approach wherein the forest department, NGOs and local people came together for conservation of vultures.

The other activities initiated in Gadchiroli forest division include creating awareness about importance of vultures and its conservation among local people, safeguarding of vulture nesting colonies and prohibition on felling tall nesting trees, economic incentive to people who conserve roosting trees in their own land and constant monitoring of vulture nests and providing adequate protection to the rooster trees.

After this initiative, the frequency of vulture sighting has increased in and around Gadchiroli city. A vulture nest was found near Yeoli village and a group of 25-30 vultures is regularly visiting the villages near Gadchiroli. Our future work involves identification and conservation of available nesting locations of vultures around Gadchiroli and Dhanora, protection of roosting trees by involving local people and increasing the number of ‘Vulture Restaurants' to provide regular safe food to vultures.

(The writer is Deputy Conservator of Forests, Gadchiroli Forest Division, Gadchiroli, Maharashtra)

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