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Turkey opens restaurant for vultures

The first vulture restaurant has opened in Turkey, and already it is acquiring customers.


Photo courtesy of Çağan Şekercioğlu

The site selected for the restaurant is in Iğdır, in view of Mount Ağrı, near the border with Armenia in Eastern Anatolia (see map below). The area is home to four vulture species–the Egyptian, bearded, griffon and black vultures.

“The area around the valleys of Aras and Arpaçay is the best spot to set up, for the first time in Turkey, vulture restaurants that have been operative in many countries such as South Africa and Mexico for years,” said Çağan Şekercioğlu, KuzeyDoğa Society president and senior research biologist at Stanford University.


Photo of cinereous vulture courtesy of Çağan Şekercioğlu

Şekercioğlu, a National Geographic grantee, has played a leading role in establishing conservation areas for birds in Turkey and other parts of the world. (Read the earlier blog post: Turkey’s First Island Sanctuary for Birds Is Built From an Old Dirt Road and watch the National Geographic Wild Chronicles video on Şekercioğlu’s research on forest birds in Costa Rica forest, fragments and coffee plantations.) 

The new vulture restaurant in Turkey is “a safe place to feed the scavenger birds with roadkill, butchershop remains, the carcasses of farm animals that have died naturally–horses, donkeys, dogs–or animals like wild boars that have been killed by local hunters,” Şekercioğlu said in an email.

Bird-watching hides are to be built for local residents, tourists and wildlife photographers to observe the vultures feeding on the carcasses. In this way, the vulture restaurant will benefit both the birds and the local economy, Şekercioğlu said.


Map courtesy of Google Maps

The venture has the support of Yaşar Türkleş, the Ministry of Environment and Forestry National Parks and Nature Protection Directorate (DKMP) Wildlife Department Director, who visited the vulture restaurant in the company of Cemal Akcan, DKMP Wildlife Management Branch Director, and Taner Tazegün, Director of Iğdır Environment and Forestry Directorate. “The officials said that they were pleased with the realization of such an initiative for Turkey’s wildlife, and underlined that the required support would be made available,” Şekercioğlu said.

An agreement to establish Turkey’s first vulture restaurant was signed by M. Kemal Yalınkılıç, Director General of the DKMP, and by Şekercioğlu, on December 25, 2009.


Photo of Egyptian vulture courtesy of Çağan Şekercioğlu

Vultures are in a grave danger throughout the world, Şekercioğlu said. “Some of the medications used in veterinary medicine cause a kidney collapse in the vultures that plunder the carcasses of the animals on which the medications are used,” he said.

Vulture populations have collapsed in India because of the use of such drugs in cattle.

The carrion-eating birds have been on the decline in India due to exposure to diclofenac, a common livestock drug, National Geographic News reported in 2008. “A survey of vultures in northern and central India has found the birds’ populations have plunged to near-extinction levels–one species is down 99.9 percent since surveys began in the 1990s,” National Geographic News reported. (Read the story: Many Asian Vultures Close to Extinction, Survey Finds.) 

The crash of the vulture populations in India has resulted in an explosion in the number of feral dogs that feed off rotting carcasses. The dogs in turn have caused a large number of human deaths through the spread of rabies.

“Since we are apprehensive about suffering the same crisis in Turkey, our vulture restaurant provides the vultures with a source of food that is free of chemicals,” Şekercioğlu said.


Photo of griffon courtesy of Çağan Şekercioğlu

Animals are not hunted specifically for the new vulture restaurant, Şekercioğlu said. “Wild boars are hunted by farmers to protect their crops. We are working with them and the local environment and forestry administration to pick up these carcasses for the vulture restaurant, and provide lead-free copper bullets to the hunters in return.”

Lead-poisoning is a major cause of the deaths of vultures such as the California condor. “In fact, California has banned the use of lead shot bullets in the range of the California condor,” Şekercioğlu said. (Read more about what exposure to lead does to vultures.) 

“We are hoping to reduce the use of lead bullets in Turkey,” Şekercioğlu added. “Our vulture restaurant is the first initiative in Turkey to publicize and spread the use of non-lead bullets, as well as the first initiative to publicize the problem of veterinary drugs and limit their use to safe alternatives such as meloxicam.”

vulture-restaurant-photo-2.jpgÇağan Şekercioğlu (right) and Taner Tazegun, Igdir Director of Environment and Forestry, the manager of the vulture restaurant.

Photo courtesy of Çağan Şekercioğlu

In this video, Çağan Şekercioğlu talks about Turkey’s new vulture restaurant: