If you've ever wanted to fly like a bird, this may be the closest chance you'll ever get—flying alongside one, riding the same thermals the bird does. A company in Nepal called the Parahawking Project is now offering tourists a chance to go "parahawking"—paragliding with trained vultures or raptors who help to find the very best air.
As CNN’s Brandi Goode explains, on each flight the birds find the best thermals, or upwellings of warm air that allow the paragliders to extend their time in the air. She wrote about her experience flying with an Egyptian vulture named Kevin:
The whole parahawking experience, which lasts about 30 minutes, is surreal.
With 8,000-meter, snow-capped peaks reflecting in the lake below, the views from the sky are phenomenal.
When Kevin finds us a strong thermal, we quickly follow and ascend, and then he's called over for a reward.
The experience can be yours, too, for $170 (plus the cost of transport to Nepal, of course). A portion of the fee goes to local vulture conservation efforts: Egyptian vultures, an endangered species, live in habitats from the Atlantic to the Himalayas, across Africa, Europe and parts of Asia, but everywhere they live, they are threatened by both habitat loss and poisoning, intentional or unintentional.
One of the most serious threats to vultures in Asia is an anti-inflammatory drug called Diclofenac, which is used to ease pain in dying cattle and buffalo. The drug, however, is deadly to carrion birds, like vultures, that feed on the cattles' remains. The drug is now illegal in India and Pakistan, though it is still used, and continues to be a problem for birds in the region.