<!– /11440465/Dna_Article_Middle_300x250_BTF –>While the dwindling numbers of vultures are a cause for concern, an initiative by the state forest department to ensure that these endangered raptors get to feed on carrion has led to their population rising in the Left wing extremism- affected district of Gadchiroli.The ‘vulture restaurant’ model has led to a rise in the numbers of species like Gyps indicus (Indian Vulture or Long-billed Vulture) and Gyps africanus (White-backed vulture) in a tribal dominated district in Vidarbha. Out of total 23 vulture species found globally, India has nine in the wild. While helping dispose of carcasses which would have otherwise been a public health problem, these birds act as natural scavengers.“In the vulture restaurant model, we ask villagers to take the animal carcasses to these restaurants located away from villages instead of burying or burning them. The carcasses are kept in an enclosed area with a raised platform to attract vultures in the vicinity who feed on them while making food available exclusively for vultures, it keeps away competition. This has led to an increase in vulture population,” said P.Kalyankumar, chief conservator of forests, Gadchiroli.The vulture conservation effort was launched in 2012 from Gadchiroli and Kamlapur. The platforms prevent the raptors from being disturbed by other animals like dogs when they feed on the carcasses.He added that the number of these winged scavengers stood at around 800 compared to less than 100 when they started off with the idea in 2013. Most of these birds are from the resident population and some vultures also come from neighbouring Chhattisgarh to feed.The department pays villagers Rs 500 per dead cattle to serve as an incentive to deposit carrions at the 25 such vulture restaurants in the district. “The sightings have improved and gone up around these villages. The number of nesting sites has also increased,” said Kalyankumar, adding that these restaurants had been selected in areas with water sources and trees for these raptors to nest.“We have appointed gidhad mitras (friends of vultures) for villages with a vulture restaurant. They have been given binoculars and a camera and have been trained in conservation. They count the number of birds and inform our nodal officers,” he explained, adding that now, they were mapping nesting sites and asking farmers to preserve huge canopy trees. “The actual enumeration of nesting colonies has been started. We are surveying these nesting sites in minute details and taking their GPS locations. This will help us map their nesting patterns, behaviour and locational preference,” said Kalyankumar.The use of painkiller diclofenac for treating livestock and the resulting presence of the drug in animal carcasses which vultures fed on, led to these birds dying of kidney failures. In 2006, the veterinary manufacture of the drug was banned. Environmentalist Kishor Rithe of the Satpuda Foundation noted that this would tide over the food shortage faced by vultures due to farmers selling off aged, dying livestock to traders for culling. However, Vibhu Prakash of the BNHS Vulture Conservation Breeding Programme, noted that their studies showed the vultures did not face a problem of food availability. Prakash said the main problem for vultures was diclofenac, the presence of which in a carcass would kill several birds. “Human formulations are available in the market and are used for treating cattle,” said Prakash, adding that their 2013 carcass sampling survey had shown that around five to six percent carcasses had traces of the drug, when it should be less than 1%. “However, prevalence of diclofenac has come down,” he noted, adding that the Centre had banned multi-dose vials last year.