By Norma Tsopo
USE of poison in poaching is not only a growing threat to target-big-game like elephants – but animal and birds that nature depends on to clean up their carcasses.
This has made vultures very vulnerable as they are dying in thousands from secondary poisoning. The birds’ numbers are down significantly regionally at the back of this poisoning trend.
But nature desperately needs them in preserving its ecological balance. They are its sanitisers. Albeit not where man-made pollutants are concerned.
Gifted with exceptionally corrosive stomach acid they can safely digest decomposing carcasses infected with various types of bacteria like botulinum toxin, hog cholera bacteria, and anthrax bacteria that are lethal to others they prevent the spread of such diseases.
Zimbabwe has six main vulture species of 11 that are found on the African continent but they are all in decline.
Shangani Sanctuary has developed an unusual way to try to reverse the trend by setting up a vulture restaurant which serves not only as a source of safe food but also an educational platform and an avenue into research on the special birds.
Shangani’s Vulture Restaurant is set on a rocky outcrop just a two-minute drive from eco-tourism company Jabulani Safaris’ lodges and camp site which manages the facility by putting out offal and offcuts from a local abattoir that is owned by its investors.
They also sometimes put out wildlife carcasses for the vultures.
The restaurant was set up in consultation and guidance from Vulture Conservation Program (Vulpro) and they put out the feeds at least once a week depending on the abattoir’s slaughter schedule.
Jabulani Safaris has also installed cameras on the restaurant to establish the number and species that they would attract.
To date, lappet-faced, white-backed, Cape and hooded vultures have all come to feed, with the white-backed, which is listed by the World Conservation Union (IUCN) as Critically Endangered, dominating.
The numbers of this magnificent birds at the restaurant gives hope that more initiatives of this nature can save these highly threatened birds from going extinct.
Jabulani Safaris manager Daniel Mead says they have interests in getting more insight in Lappet-faced vultures which are categorised by IUCN as Endangered.
“The next step for the Shangani Sanctuary Vulture Restaurant is to work with Vulpro in fitting tracking devices to Lappet-faced vultures in order to get an understanding of their range and nesting sites in relation to the restaurant. This is still in its infancy and we are starting the process of consulting with Zimparks in order to obtain the necessary permits to allow us to capture and tag vultures,” Mead has been quoted as saying.
Admire Tickey another senior official at the eco-tourism safari said the restaurant was also attracting other scavengers in the largely plain game sanctuary.
“Our cameras show that the restaurant is just like any wild kill attracting all kinds of scavengers like brown hyenas and bush pigs,” Tickey said.
He said the restaurant has been a very successful platform to educate tourists on the importance of vultures and to build support on their conservation efforts.