A new film, made in the Eagle Gorge of Dedoplistkaro, Kakheti, tells the story of two Georgian wildlife conservationists and one group of misunderstood creatures. Vultures have a commonly unknown, yet crucial role in our wild ecosystems: They are “nature’s clean-up crew”, in the words of Director of Vulture Conservation Foundation, José Tavares, who offers commentary in the film.
“Vanishing Sky Lords” (გაუჩინარებული ცის ღმერთები) explores this role vultures have in nature, their public perception, presence in ancient mythical tales, and dramatic disappearance in recent decades.
“Vanishing Sky Lords” follows filmmaker Saxon Bosworth’s recent project, “Like an Animal”, previously reported on in GEORGIA TODAY.
The film follows zoologists Nika Paposhvili and Nika Kerdikoshvili through Eagle Gorge as they carry out fieldwork; gathering information on population size, breeding population, and nesting success of the griffon and Egyptian vultures. This work is essential to understand what the true status of vultures is in Georgia.
This data will then be used to build long-term surveys and action plans. Nika Budaghashvili of local conservation NGO, SABUKO, comments in the film that this work of studying the current populations is vital in working to ensure the long-term protection of Georgia’s vultures.
There are four species of vulture found in Europe, and all four can currently be found breeding and foraging around Georgia, these are the bearded, Egyptian, griffon, and black vultures. As scavengers, their diets consist of carrion (dead animals). Their role is crucial, cleaning the countryside from pathogens that harbor in carrion.
An estimated 99% of India’s vultures have been lost since 1980, the sharpest decline of any animal known to man. In the early 1980s, there were an estimated 40 million vultures. Now their numbers are in the thousands. This dramatic loss was caused by the use of a veterinary anti-inflammatory drug on livestock that to vultures is highly toxic, and which, even in small quantities, is fatal. Indian vulture specialist Sonika Kushwaha offers commentary on the status of vultures in her country, as well as their role in mythology and culture. The loss of vultures means animal carcasses are left to rot, causing a chain of various negative effects, such as contaminated water sources, as well as leading populations of feral dogs to boom.
GEORGIA TODAY spoke to Saxon Bosworth, the man behind the documentary film “Vanishing Sky Lords.”
“This film means a lot to me,” he tells us. “It brought me on a thrilling journey of discovery. It was shocking for me to learn about the dramatic loss of vultures in India, because the scale was so drastic, and also because it was something I was unaware of until beginning work on Vanishing Sky Lords.
“As discussed in the film, this species held a grand role across various ancient cultures, associated with purification and rebirth, which is the case to this day in the case of communities of the Tibetan plateau who practice ‘sky burial.’ However, as Georgian artist and zoologist Luka Tkemaladze, comments in the film, they have been unfortunate with how certain media and stories have represented them. Furthermore, as the species prey on dead animals, they have certain negative connotations in their association with death,” Bosworth notes.
“The film is also a tale of friendship. The two Nikas, friends of mine, have known each other for many years. Having met studying Business at university, they then both decided to change their path and go on to study Ecology at Ilia State University. It was an honor for me to join them in the field, and it is inspirational to see the level of skill and passion with which they work.
“I would be delighted if my film helps vultures a little with their public relations. If the film means just a few people view vultures in a different light, and brings some respect for what they do for our nature, that would make me very happy,” he says.
“I would also like to mention my final film in this Georgian trilogy, “Mr. Velvet Scoter”, which is in the final stages of production. This film will follow the remarkable conservation efforts of Nika Paposhvili at Lake Tabatskuri of the Velvet Scoter duck. I hope to organize a public screening for this film, so if anyone reading this would be interested in joining us there live as we present this last story, I would be delighted to welcome them, and would encourage them to contact me.
You can contact Saxon on Instagram, @saxonbosworth
Or via email, email@example.com
The legend of Paskunji (ფასკუნჯი)
Paskunji is a mythical-fairytale bird from the stories of Kartvelian (pre-Christian Georgian) mythology.
The creature is described to have the body of a lion; yet with the beak, wings, and claws of an eagle. It moves between the underworld and the afterlife. The creature was said to be intelligent, thoughtful, sometimes even talkative.
Lexo Gavashelishvili, Professor at Ilia State University tells a common narrative of a story of Paskunji from mythical Kartvelian folklore in “Vanishing Sky Lords”.
Artwork by Luka Tkemaladze (of local NGO, Nature Conservation Georgia).