|Thursday, 01 May 2008|
Vulture Culture! - We witness the most amazing Vulture feeding scene ever.
On an early February morning on the outskirts of Pokhara Nepal, our team of Parahawkers, a film crew and an RSPB research biologist were witness to one of the best Raptor encounters of our lives...
Take a look at the most amazing vulture pictures . Click here . Warning! not for the faint hearted.
Words by James Irons - Pictures by James Irons and Scott Mson
Forget the words - Go straight to the pictures
In January 06 I took on a trip to Pokhara Nepal, to learn how to Paraglide with Scott Masson and his team of Parahawking raptors. I have worked in falconry for over 12 years, flying a good deal of species in a variety of countries, this was not to be missed. After a successful few months I returned to work with Scott for the 06-07 season. An innovative and driven falconer, Scott has trained a variety of birds to fly with him in the amazingly consistent Pokhara valley, at the foot of the Himalaya. We had the privilege of working with a few film crews making documentary's about Parahawking, what follows is an account of an afternoon of shooting Vultures.
On an early February morning on the outskirts of Pokhara Nepal, our team of Parahawkers, a film crew and an RSPB research biologist were witness to one of the best Raptor encounters of our lives.
While out running erands one moring, Bhupal Gurung, The Maya Devi Restaurant manager stumbled upon a fresh water buffalow carcass. He was soon on the phone with news of his find and was instructed to stay at the site and to call us every other hour with details on the impending avian clean-up crew. It wasn't long before we got the call, 100 + Vultures were on the field or inbound. The word spread quickly and, like our winged friends, we raced to the field weaving our way at top speed through Pokhara's chaotic traffic.
Only a few kilometers from the Buff zone I spotted a sight that I have previously only witnessed in Africa -- a huge, looming vortex of Vultures. As we drew even closer, I realized from the sheer volume of birds that this was going to be special. Just above our heads a squadron of Himalayan Griffon Vultures were getting into the circuit and lining up for finals. Himalayans are the largest Gips on earth ˆ with a six to seven foot wingspan, and weighing up to twelve kilograms they demand absolute respect on a carcass. There were already at least 60 of these behemoths battling over the carcass and forty White Backed Vultures fighting with them for their share of the spoils. Smaller than the Himalayans, but incredibly tenacious, the White Backs were jumping headlong into the ruck, only to be spat out the top after a few mouthfuls.
In no time the crew had the shots they wanted and set off back to base. We were left with the rest of the day, over a hundred vultures, and a penknife. After an hour of watching the birds tug and pull at the Buff from about twenty meters we dived into the foray and lent a helping hand. With a few swift strokes we opened the Buff's belly and the fuse lit! All the birds within a twenty meter radius instantly dived head first into the carcass while every vulture within a fifty mile radius of Pokhara upped their flaps and began a b-line for our buff zone. Friends who were paragliding over fifteen kilometers away from the site watched in surprise as every vulture left the sky in one gigantic avian exodus.
The scene on the ground was beyond primordial as the massive birds screamed and hissed for their right to the feast. There was dust and blood flying everywhere, and at least three birds actually inside the ribcage; the only evidence of their feasting was the external movement of various bits of buff. Every few seconds there was an eruption of noise and an explosion of feathers as one of the adult HGV's unleashed its wrath on a subordinate.
Surprisingly, the birds were incredibly passive as we crawled amongst them taking photos and it soon became apparent that we were in the midst of what was possibly the hungriest and most tolerant bunch of vultures in Asia. Soon we were in middle of the mayhem, all but diving into the ribcage and taking mouthfuls ourselves. We were actually able touch the closer birds as they gorged themselves and on several occasions we even managed a cheeky grope of the odd neck.
With the birds in such easy reach, our biologist ( Dr Richard Cuthebert) was kicking himself for not having his satellite tagging equipment along. Apparently he has often spent hours waiting in bushes and blinds (sometimes unsuccessfully) for a vulture feeding frenzy. Richard's current mission in Nepal has been to monitor the effects of the widely used cattle-drug Diclofenac on Vulture populations and to raise awareness about its damaging side-effects. At present Dicolfenac, which is harmless to mammals, has wiped out 98% of the vultures in Nepal and India resulting in a population drop faster than the Dodo's.
A scene so new and unsuspected, but one that has been played out for millions of years. A day to remember.
For more information on the Asian Vulture Crisis and Vulture Conservation. go to - www.vulturerescue.org
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