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Jo'Burg Days: Fancy A Meal At The Vulture Restaurant

...As a valuable aid in keeping the veld clean of dead potentially diseased livestock, today's farmers are actively setting up vulture restaurants as an ideal way of disposing of dead animals and eliminating infections...

Barbara Durlacher tells of efforts to restore the balance of nature in South Africa.

To read more of Barbara’s excellent stories and articles please click on http://www.openwriting.com/archives/joburg_days/

Fancy a meal at a "vulture restaurant"? Well, this may not appeal to you, but it certainly does to an ever-increasing number of these birds, whose numbers have been seriously declining all over Africa in the past 20 or 30 years.

As a valuable aid in keeping the veld clean of dead potentially diseased livestock, today's farmers are actively setting up vulture restaurants as an ideal way of disposing of dead animals and eliminating infections.

For millions of years, nature has removed the remains of dead carcasses by using these strange birds as a natural garbage disposal service. Cruising the warm thermal updrafts over the endless plains of Africa, a single bird can spot predators gathering at a kill from as far away as 10 to 15 kilometers. Once spotted, it is not long before groups of these unprepossessing avian cleaners gather to strip away the remnants of flesh and sinew from a dead carcass, purloin the bones to drop onto rocks from several hundred feet up and extract the marrow from the broken remains.

Due to loss of habitat, the use of agri-chemicals, veterinary medicines and pesticides, numbers of all vulture species have been showing a serious decline in recent years. It was not until the Endangered Wildlife Trust established a Birds of Prey Working Group to control and monitor using recognised observation techniques that wildlife authorities were able to get a clear picture of the true state of affairs.

For hundreds of years, vultures have formed an important part of much of Africa's folklore and tradition. Lately, they have also come to provide a prominent feature of ecotourism.

Vulture restaurants have proved to be instrumental in encouraging the breeding of the birds; provided a rich new field of instruction for the next generation of young South Africans in valuing and protecting their heritage and become a popular source of interest and entertainment for tourists.

Now, conservation programs have been set up all over the country to advise farmers how to create these restaurants and protect and encourage the conservation of the birds on farms, as well as in the protected game sanctuaries and wildlife parks. Due to these efforts, the enhanced breeding success of the Cape vulture, the African white-backed vulture, the bearded vulture, and the lappet-faced vulture is finally being noted and in this way an integral part of Africa's wildlife heritage is being protected.

Situated in open areas in wildlife reserves, mountain sanctuaries and game parks visitors can watch as the vultures dispose of the remains of a carcass within less than 30 minutes. In this way the veld is cleaned of potential health hazards from animals dying from natural causes, as well as providing a prime source for photographic enthusiasts.

As carcasses not only attract the large scavengers, but many other smaller species which feed on the animal remains, nature's cleaning service is one of the best, providing an age-old miracle and eliminating the possibility of disease.

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