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A restaurant for vultures

Conservationists in Nepal have opened a special "restaurant" to offer safe food to vultures, whose existence is being threatened.

13 Feb 2007

Scientists says South Asia's vultures are on the brink of extinction largely due to farmers dosing their cattle with diclofenac, a drug used to treat inflammation, poisoning the scavenging birds one step up the food chain.

Numbers of Oriental white-backed, long-billed and slender-billed vultures in the region have plummeted.

The vulture population in Nepal is estimated to have fallen to a mere 500 nesting pairs from at least 50 000 pairs in 1990, according to a local conservation group, Bird Conservation Nepal.

But now a special feeding center set up by the conservation group at Kawasoti, about 100 km (60 miles) southwest of the capital, Kathmandu, is trying to ensure vultures get a chance to eat chemical-free cattle carcasses.

"Our effort is to let at least some vultures eat safe food," the group's chief, Hem Sagar Baral, told Reuters on Saturday.

Kawasoti, a roadside town, has a large concentration of vultures, prompting Baral's group to set up the feeding center there in April last.

At the center, which Baral describes as a "restaurant," sick and dying cows which have never been treated with diclofenac are brought in, and when they die they are left for the vultures.

The use of diclofenac is prohibited in Nepal and neighboring India, but the ban is widely ignored.

Baral said his group planned to open more such safe feeding facilities for vultures in the country.

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