The race to save Africa's vultures
Eight of Africa’s vulture species have declined by an average of 62 per cent in the past 30 years, for some species that number is as high as 80 per cent; the threats facing these creatures are extensive.
It’s just before 1pm and hungry guests are starting to emerge out onto the wooden decking at the back of the Victoria Falls Safari Lodge in Zimbabwe. A few have already settled in for lunch, sipping beer and delving into their sandwiches and salads in the sunshine. At the waterhole below, a few warthogs can be seen trotting around, stopping every now and then to munch some grass. It’s a normal setting - until you look up. Overhead, the sky is filled with several hundred vultures, swooping in giant concentric circles.
还不到下午一点，津巴布韦维多利亚瀑布撒法里俱乐部酒店（Victoria Falls Safari Lodge）后面的木地板露台，已陆续有饥肠辘辘的客人出现。有些已经坐下来开始午餐，沐浴在阳光下小酌啤酒，吃着三明治和沙拉。下面的水池边上有几头疣猪，来回走动，不时停下来吃草。这一切似乎是寻常景象，但你抬头一看，就会发现惊人奇观。天空中有几百只秃鹫，围成巨大的同心圆正在向下俯冲盘旋。
They too have arrived for their midday snack. Every day the team at this hotel places last night’s leftover meat out for the vultures to eat. They call it the ‘Vulture Restaurant’ and it’s a vital part of protecting these birds, who have become some of the most endangered species in Africa.
A 2015 report by Darcy Ogada of The Peregrine Fund, a US-based conservation organisation focusing on endangered birds of prey, shows that eight of Africa’s vulture species have declined by an average of 62 per cent in the past 30 years, for some species that number is as high as 80 per cent. The threats facing these creatures are extensive, from habitat loss to being killed for spiritual reasons. In some cultures it is believed that sleeping with a vulture head under your pillow will allow you to see into the future.
2015年，任职于美国猛禽保护组织——游隼基金（The Peregrine Fund）的奥加达（ Darcy Ogada）报告指出，过去30年间，八个品种的非洲秃鹫数量平均减少62％，一些品种数量减少甚至高达80%；秃鹫面临着各种各样的威胁，包括栖息地丧失或是因人类迷信通灵而惨遭杀害。据非洲一些文化传统，人们认为枕头下放秃鹫脑袋睡觉可以预知未来。
In Zimbabwe, where poaching of elephants and rhinos is a major issue, poisoning posts a significant threat to the birds. “[In recent years] poachers have realised they can use poison to kill animals. It’s effective because it’s silent and therefore doesn’t attract much attention. When the vultures eat the carcasses they die too,” says Roger Parry, Wildlife Manager at Victoria Falls Wildlife Trust, a not-for-profit organisation in Zimbabwe. Knowing that circling vultures can attract the attention of the park rangers, poachers will sometimes even poison an entire water source, to kill the vultures in advance.
在津巴布韦，偷猎大象和犀牛是重大问题，毒杀这些动物也严重威胁到鸟类的生存。帕里（Roger Parry）是津巴布韦非营利性组织——维多利亚瀑布野生动物信托基金（Wildlife Manager at Victoria Falls Wildlife Trust）的野生动物管理员，他说，"（近些年来）偷猎者意识到了能通过下毒捕杀动物，没有声音不会引起注意，十分有效。秃鹫吃了中毒死亡的动物尸体也会死亡。"知道盘旋在动物尸体上的秃鹫会引起公园管理员的注意，偷猎者有时甚至会给整个水源下毒，提前杀死秃鹫。<-->纽约时报中英文网 http://www.qqenglish.com<-->
Of all scavenger species, poisoned carcasses pose a particular threat to vultures because they are social creatures and eat in large groups (known as a wake) of up to 100. In 2013, 500 vultures were killed after feeding on the carcass of a poisoned elephant in Namibia, and in May 2017, 94 critically endangered African White Backed Vultures were found dead on the Zimbabwe/Mozambique border, killed the same way.
Human-wildlife conflict also plays a part in the plight of vultures in Zimbabwe and beyond. “We get massive losses [of vultures] through predators killing local’s livestock. The community then puts out poisoned bait to kill the predators, vultures eat the dead predator and die too,” says Parry.
The Vulture Restaurant initiative is part feeding programme, part education programme. By attracting the birds to the Vulture Restaurant every day the team can ensure they’re regularly getting a safe meal, and while the birds are there they can educate tourists from all over the world about these creatures, increasing awareness and support for the cause in the process.
Back at the Victoria Falls Safari Lodge the vultures sense that their meal is about to be served and the huge birds begin to swoop down from the skies and settle in the trees. Their broad, strong wings are perfect for gliding through the sky with minimal effort, but coming in to land is less elegant. One by one they slam into the branches with some force, taking a moment or two to compose themselves and get their feathers back in place. There are no tablecloths or sunshades here, just an open patch of ground that marks Vulture Restaurant HQ, with tiered seating in front of it for guests to watch.
Although most tourists come to this part of the world to visit the astounding sight of 5 million cubic metres of water crashing down at Victoria Falls every minute, the vulture experience has grown in popularity and is now packed every day. “We have days where we have to limit the number of people going down [to the viewing area] because it gets so busy,” says Ross Kennedy, CEO of Africa Albida Tourism, which runs the lodge.
虽然大多数游客来这里是为了维多利亚瀑布，欣赏每分钟500万立方米的水量跌落悬崖的宏伟奇观，但是观赏秃鹫也越来越受欢迎，现在每天都挤满了看客。经营酒店的非洲爱比达旅游（Africa Albida Tourism）首席执行官肯尼迪（Ross Kennedy）说，"有些日子还要限制观看区的人流量，因为实在太忙了。"
‘Lunch’ is served by Wildlife Supervisor Moses Garira who sees himself as something of a vulture daddy-figure. He has the unenviable task of wandering out into the middle of the clearing with a cool-box full of meat, dropping the contents onto the ground and running for his life as the 200-odd vultures swoop in for their feeding frenzy. It’s a remarkable scene as the mob of huge birds crash and pounce on top of one another, screeching and squaking as they clamber in and fight over the meat, ripping away at muscle with ease. No one, surely, would volunteer for this role, but Garira rather enjoys it. “It feels great to be so close to the birds, I feel like I am part of them – it’s not scary at all,” he says, earnestly. Back in the safety of the viewing seats, he spends the next 15 minutes or so telling the onlookers about the importance of vultures to human health, and why we need to protect them.
Often considered to be creepy, disgusting creatures mainly because of their scavenger tendencies, it turns out humans have got it all wrong when it comes to vultures. “Part of the educational challenge is to get people to realise these birds are not horrible - they are extremely important. They’re beautiful birds, and they are hugely important in terms of their role cleaning up the dead carcasses in the bush,” says Parry. Notably, they’re safely able to digest nasty bacteria like Anthrax, where other scavengers are not. Without vultures, there’d be a lot more disease in the world.
But will the vulture restaurant actually be able to make a significant difference to the plight of vultures in Zimbabwe? Kerri Wolter, CEO of Vulpro, a South African vulture conservation organisation, believes it can play an important part when teamed with other solutions like government funding for conservation and harsher penalties for killing vultures. Improving the general public’s awareness and support is a big part of the battle, and the vulture restaurant achieves this. “If we are going to win, we have to get people to like vultures,” she says.