Vulture ‘restaurants’ help protect dwindling raptor populations in Zimbabwe



By Mary Mundeya for The NewsHawks

It’s a scorching Thursday afternoon and a group of ecstatic elementary school students and their teacher are following Zulu.

He is one of two wildlife officers at Victoria Falls Safari Lodge in the town of Victoria Falls, northern Zimbabwe, in charge of the organisation’s Vulture Restaurant initiative.

Over the years, vulture populations in Africa have declined significantly due to a number of factors including poisoning and the traditional use of vulture body parts as medicine. According to Birdlife International, vultures have become one of the most endangered bird families on the planet.

Zimbabwe is home to six of the 11 major vulture species found on the African continent, all of which are endangered or critically endangered, according to the World Conservation Union (IUCN) list.

In this context, the Vulture Restaurant initiative, in which vultures are fed the remains of animal carcasses, is being adopted by many wildlife sanctuaries, hotels and lodges as an innovative way to protect the declining vulture population.

The initiative is not just limited to providing food to the birds, it has grown into an educational program through which local and international tourists are made aware of the threats vultures face and the importance of the birds. of prey for the ecosystem.

“One of the main reasons vultures are in danger is that their food supply is threatened due to increased poaching activities, where poison is used to kill large animals like elephants,” Musanza says. “If the birds consume the carcass of the poisoned animal, they die in large numbers, so our supplementary feeding program provides them with a safe food source.”

“Each day at 1pm lodge visitors are invited to walk a short distance to the game park at the front of our lodge, where a guide drops some meat for the vultures to descend and eat,” said Anarld Musonza, the Victoria General Manager of Falls Safari Lodge. “While visitors watch the spectacle of feeding birds, our Senior Wildlife Officer Aleck Zulu sharpens their understanding of the importance of vultures not only to nature but to us as humans and our survival in harmony with nature.”

Shangani Wildlife Sanctuary (SWS), home to another successful Vulture Restaurant initiative, feeds the birds leftovers from a nearby slaughterhouse as well as wild animal carcasses.

“The restaurant has been a very successful platform to educate not only international tourists but also local villagers, mainly school children, about the importance of vultures and build support for their conservation efforts,” said the holder. word of SWS.

“Not only are we happy with the number of visitors we receive per day, but we are also delighted with the increase in the number of vultures that come to feed daily, which has increased from around 200 to 350 since our start.”

Wildlife ACT emergency response manager PJ Roberts called vultures a keystone species that acts as an environmental cleanup team.

“Vultures play an essential role in maintaining a healthy ecosystem,” he said. “These critically endangered birds provide an incredible ‘cleaning’ service for the environment. By eating decaying animals from the landscape, we are guaranteed an environment free of diseases such as anthrax, rabies , tuberculosis and botulism which, if allowed to spread, have catastrophic effects on humans and animals.

Birdlife Zimbabwe’s chief executive, Julia Pierini, shared Roberts’ sentiments. She cited the example of how India’s rabies epidemic escalated after the country’s vulture population dwindled.

“Since the 1990s, India has been battling rabies and thousands of people die from it every year. To go down this path would be catastrophic for our nation,” she said.

Pierini also paid tribute to all the organizations contributing to vulture conservation through the Vulture Restaurant initiative.

“As Birdlife Zimbabwe, we are grateful to all organizations that contribute to vulture conservation in the country. Apart from the immeasurable contribution of birds to keeping our environment clean, they also play a vital role in alerting wildlife rangers to the locations of poached animals through the way they circle in the sky above dead carcasses.

“Vultures have a slow gestation period, so it’s also important that we take care of their nests, eggs and young, as the human population is rapidly encroaching on wildlife habitats,” Pierini said.

This article is reproduced here as part of the African Conservation Journalism program, funded in Angola, Botswana, Mozambique and Zimbabwe by USAID’s VukaNow: Activity. Implemented by the international conservation organization Space for Giants, it aims to expand the reach of conservation and environmental journalism in Africa and bring more African voices into the international conservation debate. Read the original story here:

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