A restaurant for vultures



Posted on 10 July 2012  | 
Critically endangered vultures feast at a restaurant
© WWF Greater Mekong/ JP DelpalEnlarge
27 vultures were spotted in Cambodia’s Eastern Plains landscape during WWF’s recent ‘vulture restaurant’ effort. The feeding stations are a valuable research and conservation tool and involve providing a domestic cow carcass for the scavengers to feed upon, allowing researchers to record population numbers over a 5 day period.

Researchers conducted vulture restaurants at 3 different sites within Mondulkiri Protected Forest and Phnom Prich Wildlife Sanctuary, the two protected areas where WWF is currently engaged. 15 vultures, the largest number across the 3 sites, were recorded in Mondulkiri Protected Forest, a vast stretch of dry forest in the northeast of Cambodia, which is part of the largest intact block of forest in Southeast Asia. Both red-headed and white-rumped vultures came to feast on the meat, including two junior white-rumped vultures.

Since 2004, WWF has been using vulture restaurants on a monthly basis to provide food for vultures and to help monitor the populations.

A coalition of partners across Cambodia support the provision of livestock for vulture restaurants and the rangers and monitoring teams that supervise each site.The restaurants allow for a national census of the large birds, led by the Wildlife Conservation Society (WCS). This year a minimum of 199 vultures were recorded during the monthly vulture restaurants across Cambodia, which unlike most of Asia has stable vulture populations.

Numbers of red-headed, white-rumped and slender-billed vultures, all noted during the recent census, have seen a dramatic decline in Pakistan, India and Nepal, where they were once abundant. According to the IUCN, the decline is largely because the creatures are poisoned after feeding on animal carcasses treated with diclofenac, a veterinary drug used to treat domestic cattle. Diclofenac remains in the muscle tissue of animals that have been administered with it. A 1 per cent concentration in an animal carcass is enough to kill the birds through kidney failure.

Cambodia is among the few countries where the drug is not used which aids the relative stability of Cambodia’s vulture population. The Eastern Plains landscape is globally significant for vulture conservation and offers hope for the long-term survival of these birds of prey.

New populations of the scavenger in Cambodia, which were previously unknown, have also been recently recorded. In March this year, WWF was made aware of the first known nest of the red-headed vultures along the Mekong River in the Mekong Flooded Forest. Two chicks successfully fledged the nest at the end of March. WWF plans to start vulture restaurants in the area to gauge the size of this new population and to add the site to the national vulture census.
Critically endangered vultures feast at a restaurant
© WWF Greater Mekong/ JP Delpal Enlarge

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