December 2023

An Endangered pair

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An Endangered pair

We spent most of a sunny afternoon, parked in the shade, watching a pack of African wild dogs (Lycaon pictus) rest and reposition themselves as the shadows shifted. The year’s litter of pups looked well and, with ants in their pants, and a lack of appreciation for afternoon naps, they jostled with one another.

Wild dogs are listed as Endangered on the IUCN Red List of threatened species, with a decreasing population heading towards being Critically Endangered, if not there already. Their population has been estimated to be around 6 000 individuals worldwide. All are threatened by habitat fragmentation, human persecution and outbreaks of disease. Every sighting of them is so precious and can never be taken for granted – they are simply one ecological disaster away from extinction.

So, imagine our surprise when a hooded vulture (Necrosyrtes monachus) landed in a little clearing in front of the dogs. Hooded vultures were assessed for the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species in 2021, and are listed as Critically Endangered, also with a decreasing population. Being scavengers their diet includes carrion, faeces, and other organic matter. By consuming faeces, vultures can obtain additional nutrients that were not fully absorbed during the digestion process of an animal. African wild dogs wolf down chunks of meat when they eat, and have a fast digestion process – so we’ve observed hooded vultures in the company of wild dogs before.

But one of the pups thought a winged playmate had arrived. It crept closer and closer to the vulture. The disapproving vulture stood its ground. The pup advanced, then paused, then danced away. But its curiosity got the better of it and it kept trying to stick its nose into the vulture’s face. It only just evaded getting pecked on the snout! Eventually a stale mate was reached and the dog pretended it wasn’t really interested anymore, and the vulture casually flew off and landed a few metres away.

The pup attempts a play bow advancement, and the vulture rebukes it with a hiss and snapping beak!

A stalemate is reached and each pretends to ignore the other. Nothing to see here.

(Just two of the world’s most endangered species actually interacting with one another.)

The hooded vulture resumed its pursuit of looking for some fast food.

(‘Coprophagy’ is the term used to describe the eating of faeces – a behaviour not limited to vultures.)

As the sun sank in the sky the adults got up and rallied the pack for the evening’s hunting activity.

Jenny Hishin
By Jenny Hishin
Author / Guest Guide