Feeding sites for vultures, where the decayed flesh of dead animals is deposited as food for the vultures, is known as a vulture restaurant. Vultures feed on the dead remains and carcasses of animals, also known as carrion. Vulture restaurants are built with the motive of supplying proper food to the vultures, which are devoid of any adulteration and anthropogenic and veterinary drugs and are suitable for consumption by the birds.
There are around nine species of vultures that have been recorded in South Africa, out of which the bearded vultures (gypaetus barbatus) and the cape vultures (gyps coprotheres) are on the verge of extinction and have been classified on the International Union for Conservation Nature (IUCN) list under the category of “near threatened”.
A sudden global decline in their numbers has led the scientists from South Africa to come up with the system of setting up vulture restaurants, with the purpose of serving animal carcasses, which are non-poisonous, for the consumption of the vultures. These carcasses are mostly donated by nearby farmers.
A study was conducted regarding the efficacy of the vulture restaurants by Dr Le Roux, Associate Professor in the Department of Zoology and Entomology at the University of the Free State (UFS) and affiliated to the Afromontane Research Unit (ARU), accompanied by her student Agnes Mkotywa.
It was observed that most of these vulture restaurants are built in open areas, giving free access to the tourists to see the view and photograph the birds feeding on the carrion. However, a drawback of these open structures is that it attracts more jackals than it does vultures and this acts as a threat to the life of the vultures.
Dr Le Roux deduced that the vultures may be protected against the jackals by putting up fences around the feeding sights. This would keep out the jackals from intruding upon the area and the vultures would also be protected.
She also observed that the carcasses were brought into the feeding areas at an inconsistent rate, which made the vultures incapable of estimating as to when they would have food to feed on and when not.
Vulture Restaurants in South Africa
In the year 1966, South Africa was the first country to get a vulture restaurant in the Drakensberg mountains. Since then, many different vulture restaurants have come up in different parts of the world, to assist in curbing their dramatic declination. Many different vulture restaurant projects have also commenced for the same.
Here are some of the vulture restaurants and projects, situated in South Africa:
Natural Selection’s Vulture Restaurant
Situated at Safarihoek in Namibia, the Natural Selection’s Vulture Restaurant came up as an initiative to monitor and improve the decreasing rate of vultures in South Africa, the main cause of which was the accidental poisoning on farms. This restaurant is built on the grounds of providing uncontaminated and unpoisoned food to the vultures, to satiate their hunger and help in their conservation.
Cape Vulture Restaurant and Monitoring Project
This project has been initiated with the aid of the Rotary Club of Brits Hartbeespoort in Pretoria, South Africa. The Rotarians have made it a point to travel to the Nyoka Ridge Vulture Restaurant over the weekend, to feed the vultures. Their carrion usually consists of dead pig carcasses, which are free of any toxins and contamination. Their goal is to revamp the dying population of vulture in the state, to sustain and conserve the ecosystem. Along with providing food to the vultures, the project also ensures the planting of trees throughout the feeding and viewing area.
Vulture Hide Conservation Project
This project revolves around providing access to the tourists to view and photograph cape vultures, a threatened species of vulture, in their natural habitat, at the Barry Porter Memorial Vulture Viewing Hide, which is located near the Oribi Gorge Nature Reserve in Kwazulu-Natal. Around 200 vultures breed over the area that helps the tourists to have a close and personal encounter with them, observing them in their natural environment while they perform various stunts to keep their viewers entertained. This project started with the aim to make the people aware about the threatened status of the birds and the perils they have to encounter.
Vulpro aims at covering multiple tasks ranging from rescuing vultures, producing captive-bred vultures, and releasing the vultures. They also provide injured birds with appropriate and suitable veterinary care. The organisation comprises of a Vulpro rehabilitation centre to collect disabled birds from all over South Africa, a Vulpro Research and Education Centre to communicate with the farmers and make them as well as different communities around them aware about the multiple threats faced by the vultures, and a Vulpro Captive Breeding Programme to promote and facilitate off-site conservative breeding of the threatened species of vultures.
UmPhafa New Vulture Restaurant
Located near the Drakensberg mountains, the new vulture restaurant by UmPhafa aims to draw in more vultures and help in supplying them with proper food, through the toxin-free carrions released on the feeding sights. The restaurant has come up after years of suitable planning and selecting an area that attracts the continuous ingress of the birds. The area is big enough to provide ample space for the vultures to sit and feed over the carcasses.
Vultures are an integral part of the ecosystem. They help in eliminating various kinds of contagious diseases and also keeps the environment clean, for which they are also known as nature’s garbage disposers. The depletion of their proper food sources has jeopardized their status. Most of the species of these scavengers are on the brink of extinction.
To ensure that the vultures get their share of carrion, which has not been treated with any form of a toxic drug, to increase their mortality rate, vulture restaurants, which are undisturbed feeding sights for the birds, play an important and key role in the conservation of the vultures.
A quick word about South Africa: Due to its weak exchange rate does it probably gives more bang for your buck than any other country in the world . If you want good accomodation, fantastic restaurants and cheap car rentals, you’ll love South Africa . The restaurants, malls , general scenery and game reserves are truly world class. Competition amongst airlines is also heating up and ticket prices are coming down. It is still a 15 flight from Atlanta and New York though. There I can’t help you .All of us are waiting for Elon Musk (also a born and bred South African by the way) to get his shit together and figure out teleportation. Forget about going to Mars for the moment Elon. Western Europe to Johannesburg is between 8-11 hours flying time. No jet lag for you though .Yeah!
When anywhere in South Africa , ask for biltong. You won’t regret it.