Conservationists stand by “Vulture Restaurants”, a new concept that aims to augment the population of the scavenging birds, which help keep the environment clean by feeding on carrion.

According to noted conservationist T.K. Roy, the vultures are provided safe supplementary food.

“Though this concept has not been efficacious at two places in Northern India, it has been successfully running in a small place in Punjab. This concept has attracted four vulture species, including the Griffon Vulture and the Himalayan Vulture, in mammoth numbers at Dhar Kalan in Punjab. These vultures have been sighted more than 300 times by the Pathankote Wildlife Division, which has provided medically tested safe carcass.”

Over the past year, Mr. Roy has been visiting Dhar Kalan to provide his expertise for raising vulture numbers.

“The Vulture Restaurant at Dhar Kalan is indirectly helping in increasing the vulture population in neighbouring States of Himachal Pradesh and Jammu and Kashmir,” maintains Mr. Roy.

Explaining how the restaurants are run, the conservationist said dead cattle that have died a natural death are collected from a village and fed to vultures. “A veterinary conducts a post mortem to unearth whether it died naturally or due to poison. Only if the cattle died naturally is it fed to vultures.”

Emphasising the significance of giving a fillip to the population of these big birds, Mr. Roy said it has been proved beyond doubt that the vulture is a useful scavenger. Though people generally treat vultures as large ugly birds which feed on dead creatures, its relevance in keeping our planet clean has to be acknowledged.

“For centuries, vultures have been playing a key role in keeping our cities clean by getting rid of carcasses. In fact, I would describe the vulture as an ecosystem service-provider as it feeds on carrion and keeps the natural environment clean.”

The Vulture Restaurant concept comes amid a decline in the Indian sub-continent since the mid 1990s.

Population of White-Rumped Vulture (Gyps bengalensis) declined rapidly between 2000 and 2007. “The decline took place because vultures fed on carcasses of domestic animals which had been administered anti-inflammatory toxic veterinary drug Diclofenac.”

The bird’s population has stabilised as South Asia’s Vultures from Extinction (SAVE) — a consortium of regional and international organisations in collaboration with Bombay Natural History Society — has been running captive breeding centres.