Vulture Conservation in Nepal

As the scavengers of nature, vultures play an important role in the ecology by cleaning up carcasses of dead animals. They are also culturally important to communities who carry out sky burial rituals in Nepal and Tibet. When vulture populations started declining dramatically in Nepal and neighboring countries during the 1990s, conservationists set about trying to establish why this was happening. Research revealed that a common anti-inflammatory painkiller routinely given to domestic animals and livestock is extremely toxic to vultures, resulting in their deaths. In response to this crisis, in June 2006 the Government of Nepal banned the production, importation and use of diclofenac in veterinary medicine. Authorities also sanctioned the Vulture Conservation Action Plan for the period 2009-2013.

The primary aim of Nepal’s Vulture Conservation Action plan is to prevent vultures from becoming extinct in the wild. Conservation strategies include re-introduction of vultures into areas they previously occupied, providing safe food, maintaining suitable habitat, and promoting a better understanding of the important role these birds fulfill in the ecology, as well as continued scientific research and making veterinarians in Nepal aware of the urgent need to stop using diclofenac.

In 2008 a Vulture Conservation and Breeding Center was founded in partnership with the Department of National Park and Wildlife Conservation (DNPWC), the National Trust for Nature Conservation (NTNC) and Bird Conservation Nepal (BCN). Moreover, six vulture safe feeding sites have been established in Dang, Rupandehi, Nawalparasi, Kailali and Kaski districts. The first feeding site was set up in the buffer zone of the Chitwan National Park in Nawalparasi district and it has been encouraging to see eight of the nine recorded species of vultures feeding at the ‘restaurant’. It has also been reported that Egyptian vultures and white-rumped vultures are nesting in the vicinity – the latter being listed by IUCN as ‘critically endangered, while the former has the conservation status of ‘endangered’. Visitors to the area can gain knowledge from local nature guides as they enjoy a jungle walk and bird watching, meet members of the Tharu ethnic group, and view and buy locally made handicrafts, bearing in mind that all of this contributes toward nature conservation in general, and vulture conservation in particular.