In last weeks’ submission I wrote about how difficult it can be for predators to catch and subdue their prey, without incurring injury to themselves.
Sometimes, the meat eaters get lucky, and a large animal will just die of natural causes. When this happens there is less risk involved, but lots of reward. Just such an instance occurred along the Savuti Channel whilst I was on a recent visit to Savuti Camp. A large male giraffe died close to the water, and for the first day, the carcass was visited by vultures. All African vultures find their food by sight, and their habit of flying high in the sky allows them to find fallen creatures quickly during the day. Three different species were feeding on the carcass on the first afternoon. However, the dead giraffes’ thick skin meant that the vultures were only able to gain access to the flesh via natural openings in the animals’ body.
During the night spotted hyenas arrived. The vultures retired during the hours of darkness to the safety of nearby trees, whilst the hyenas fed. With their powerful jaws they were able to easily cut through the giraffes’ skin and open up the carcass. There were now more vultures than before, and of a variety of species, whitebacked, lappet-faced and hooded, were waiting their turn at the carcass. As there was only one hyena left feeding, the boldest of the vultures were able to start feeding on the carcass alongside the hyena. The spotted hyena would gradually lose patience and then rush at the vultures, scattering them all into the air. As soon as the hyena returned to the carcass and placed its head inside the giraffe, the vultures started to make their way closer again.
Scenes like this take place all over wildlife areas in Africa wherever large animals live and die. Hyenas are not the only large carnivores that will feed on dead animals. Lions and leopard also derive a fair amount of their food from this source. They too will compete with vultures, hyenas and jackals for a share. The best time to see such action is towards the end of the dry season, when plant-eating animals are at their weakest, and death from natural causes is most likely to take place.
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