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Fine dining ups bird count

Vultures feed on the carcass of a cow at one of the Cambodian Vulture Conservation Project’s ‘vulture restaurants’ in the north of the country
Vultures feed on the carcass of a cow at one of the Cambodian Vulture Conservation Project’s ‘vulture restaurants’ in the north of the country earlier this year. BIRDLIFE CAMBODIA

Fine dining ups bird count

Over the past six months, 19 “vulture restaurants” have led to a slight rise in the number of the birds spotted in Cambodia, according to a recent Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries report.

Contrary to the name’s sound, the vultures aren’t the dish being served but the diners being fed: Conservations lay out cow carcasses stripped of the hide and take cover nearby to document and photograph the birds. The 204 carnivores counted during feasts over the past six months is just slightly higher than the count estimated in last year’s annual report.

The Kingdom’s seven vulture restaurants are spread over three provinces: Mondulkiri, Stung Treng and Preah Vihear, according to Orn Sambo Vannak, director of the Sam Veasna Centre, one of the five NGOs that deliver the cattle carcasses.

“We kill cows once a month for the vultures so we can count them,” he said, adding that the government’s tally of the carnivorous birds is likely on the lower end.

“As I know, the number of vultures in Cambodia is on the rise since the [vulture restaurants] began.”

In 2004, the Cambodian Vulture Conservation Project estimated that the kingdom’s vulture population had dwindled to just 162 members due to a lack of food. The main sustenance for the bird – wild cows – has also been in decline, while domestic cattle are often given an anti-inflammatory antibiotic that renders them poisonous to the birds, according to the conservation group.

“We are pushing for doing vulture restaurants two times a month in Preah Vihear but we do not have enough money, because the price keeps increasing from $250 to $400 per cow,” said Orn Sambo Vannak.

In addition to noting the vulture population, the ministry’s July 4 report cited a number of nests found and protected so far this year for a variety of bird species, including 120 white neck ibis nests, 14 vulture nests, 96 gull nests and six giant ibis nests.

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