The Unexpected Carcass

Feral dog chasing a Hooded vulture at a zebra carcass
Feral dog chasing a Hooded vulture at a zebra carcass

It is the wet season (although we haven’t actually had any rain yet) so I wasn’t really expecting to find many carcasses – and I haven’t. But what I have found has been particularly interesting. A zebra carcass with three dogs and a handful of vultures, a hyena carcass with eight Lappet-faced vultures, two lion kills in a day (both of which got eaten by lions, not vultures), and the mutilated mass of a cow that was partially eaten by hyenas, then slaughtered for human consumption, and finally nibbled on by the birds.

With all of these it has been reassuring to find that my observations and my predictions are coming closer together. First, vultures are much more afraid of dogs than jackals, so the implications of having more dogs or dogs in certain areas are very different than more natural predators. Second, vultures will eat anything including hyenas. I have to say watching them eat the hyena did make me a little nervous as you never know how such an animal has been killed. Given the proximity to the villages, though it was in the park, I was a bit concerned the hyena could have been poisoned. But none of the vultures dropped dead and upon closer inspection once the hyena researchers arrived (they gather the heads of hyenas to study the jaws, so I gave them a call when I realized what the carcass was; bit of a conflict of interest since we had to chase the vultures off to salvage the hyena, but seemed like it was going to be more valuable data for them than me) we found that the hyena had huge claw marks around its neck and was likely killed by lions. Third, vultures get very little food from predator kills, especially this time of year when food is so valuable. A large pride of lions (with eight females and seven cubs) killed a zebra and a topi in the same day. They totally abandoned the topi so they could all work together to finish the zebra. Despite this both animals were entirely consumed by the lions by morning meaning that the patiently waiting Hooded vultures got very little to eat. Finally, certain species of vultures are more likely to avoid feeding in settlement areas than others. The cow had been killed just outside the park, right next to my camp (in fact on land owned by Ilkeliani). Herders were thus passing it frequently throughout the day and actually took most of the meat for their own consumption. As a result the carcass was mainly consumed by the less shy species – Hooded vultures, Tawny eagles, and Marabou storks. A few white-backs landed but they hardly ate anything with all the disturbance and Lappet-faced vultures and even a pair of the rare White-headed vulture passed over but were unwilling to land in such uncertain territory. Interesting indeed!

Otherwise the Mara has been its usual impressive self with tons of lions, a lovely leopard climbing out a tree as we bumped down a hill, and all the vultures one could hope for.

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