“Don’t make any noise and don’t move in a big group like monkeys,” our guide, Danny Biddiss, warns us. Following his directions, the eight of us file in a single line and make our way towards the observation hide. Peeking out from the tiny windows, we watch as three men heave a cow carcass into a small grassland clearing. Two leave and one stays behind to skin the cattle. Danny calls him the ‘cow caretaker’. We wait.
PICS: HARIZ BAHARUDIN
One by one the diners arrive. Within minutes about 50 vultures jostle for space, squabbling and flapping as they fight for their share of the meal. In less than an hour, lunch is over. All that remains of the cow are its bare skeleton, polished clean of flesh.
It is just another day at the vulture ‘restaurant’ in Gachok, a small village just 13km north-west of Pokhara. Started in 2010 by Bird Conservation Nepal (BCN), the restaurant is a feeding centre for vultures where they are provided diclofenac-free meals.
Sick and dying cows are purchased from nearby villages. The staff ensures that these animals have not been treated with the poisonous drug, the main cause for the catastrophic decline in vulture population. On average the centre houses about 20 cows. Once they are dead, the carcasses are then fed to the vultures.
While the initiative was developed to conserve the dwindling vulture population, it has benefited the locals too. Villagers, who would earlier just dispose off their sick cattle, can now earn a small income from their sale.
TOH EE MING
BCN and its partners also invest a part of the earnings from eco-tourism activities like parahawking into organising livelihood enhancement programs. The group has so far provided training on tomato farming, pig farming, and bee-keeping to locals.
The positive spin-offs from this initiative have helped change villagers’ attitudes towards the endangered birds. Says Danny: “Thanks to the restaurant, the locals now have a financial incentive to care for the vultures. It’s a win-win situation.”
Bird Conservation Nepal operates 11 other vulture feeding centres in Chitwan, Kailali, Nawalparasi, and Rupandehi.
Toh Ee Ming
The red heads
It's a bird, HARIZ BAHARUDIN
Visitors' Interactive Map of Pokhara, AYESHA SHAKYA
I just ride, MEGHNA BALI