08 May, 2021

The Unscavenged Tables

Wildlife officials have set up diclofenac-safe ‘restaurants’ for vultures. But few birds in sight.

Sukhdeep Bajwa
The Unscavenged Tables

The freshly skinned carcass of a dead cow has just been placed on a raised, fenced platform on the banks of the Chakki near Pathankot. Crows have begun picking on it as two employees of the Punjab wildlife department, armed with a camera, wait for the big moment. But it isn’t happening. High above, on an overlooking hill, the group of vultures for whom the feast has been laid out watches intently, but doesn’t swoop down on this “vulture restaurant”, as it’s called, at Kandola.

Instead, the vultures head for a secluded part of the river, where they bathe and dry themselves. “They have already fed elsewhere. The bathing and drying ritual always follows a meal,” explains Sukhdeep Bajwa, a conservationist. It is only towards dusk, finally, that some Oriental White-backed Vultures (currently the most endangered vulture species in South Asia) and Himalayan Griffon head towards the ‘restaurant’ for an evening meal. The waiting officials can now take pictures to prove their...

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