Sunday, December 29, 2013

Scavengers (Africa Series) Warning: Dead Animals

Nothing goes to waste in the natural world. Everything is a resource for something else.

Lappet-faced Vultures
In Africa, when an animal dies there is another one waiting to clean-up the remains. 
African White-backed Vulture

Vultures come in first. With their keen eyesight they are most likely to spot a carcass from the air.  The African White-backed Vulture is the most common vulture here…identifiable by its white ruffled neckband of feathers. While circling overhead they watch each other. When a vulture descends, they all funnel down to join the feast. 

The scavenger's very existence depends on death. Since death is a given, there will always be a place for scavengers in the natural world.  In the hierarchy of life, scavengers hold little allure for us, but life without scavengers is unimaginable.  Not pleasant. 

Unlike Turkey Vultures in America, the Old World Vultures have a poor sense of smell.  Dead and rotting flesh is just another tasty item on the menu.

Marabou Stork

The Marabou Stork is another bird that thrives only after something else has died. It’s a very large bird. 

Although he may be handsome from the neck down, he’s not your everyday pretty-bird. 

This Marabou Stork is cleaning up flamingo remains from an unknown demise. The Marabou Stork lacks the hooked bill of vultures, so twisting flesh off the carcass is his solution for dining on the dead.

Black-backed Jackal

Birds are not the only scavengers in Africa.  The Black-backed Jackal is quick to respond when the smell of meat is in the air. The Black-backed Jackal will prowl the perimeter of a predator's kill, but isn’t welcome to join the feast. He’s likely to find something when the owners leave though.  

There was little meat left for the jackal to scavenge off an old Cape Buffalo carcass, but there is still something for the hyenas to eat. 

With powerful jaw muscles, Hyenas are able to crunch bones to reach the marrow inside.

The Hyena is the top scavenger in Africa. Working together, a cackle of Hyenas can drive a lion or leopard off its kill, to win the whole bloody prize. 


Besides stealing from others, Hyenas are formidable predators themselves, so a Hyena might be present for all the steps in the animal recycling process.

I’m told this hippo in the water died of natural causes.

(Click any picture to enlarge)

Given sufficient time, the hot African sun and enough vultures on the job, even the remains of a big hippopotamus will disappear.  That will tally one more animal recycled on the plains of Africa, among the millions and millions and millions recycled before him.


Wildlife of East Africa,
   Withers & Hosking
Wild Nature Institute:
Birds of the World: