Predators and scavengers

Pamushana | November 2019

This was a very interesting and thought-provoking series of sightings. We had set out at the crack of dawn, in the hope of finding the big wild dog pack that had been seen in a particular area the evening before. Bang on cue we found an impala that had just been killed, but instead of wild dogs eating it there was one absolutely bloated, stomach distended, hyena feeding on the spoils. In the distance, just out of sight, I could hear other hyenas chuckling and laughing near a pan. I couldn’t figure out what was going on, but I was suspicious that this kill wasn’t made by the hyena.

Seconds later there was a yipping-yapping streak and a wild dog burst onto the scene, followed by the rest of the adult dogs. The hyena fled and went to join ranks with its comrades at the waterhole.

It was fascinating to see how quickly the wild dogs tore into the carcass and shredded the meat from it.

Once the pack had finished the meal they ran off, one by one, in a specific direction. We drove along the route they had taken, and in due course came across a wonderful scene of all the pups and adults together. The adults were regurgitating meat for the pups, and their little round bellies were full.

After that we drove to the waterhole and found the clan of hyenas lolling about in the water, barely able to move with delighted overindulgence.

So, now the puzzle became a little clearer. I believe the wild dogs had been on a killing spree early that morning, and had killed a couple of impalas. They hyenas had followed them closely, overpowered the dogs and fed on the stolen carcasses. A dog had killed the impala we came upon, been chased off by a hyena or left of its own will to go and call its pack, and while the hyena was having its first few mouthfuls on the carcass, after feeding off another carcass earlier, the whole pack of wild dogs returned. By this stage the hyena and the rest of its clan were too full to put up a fight and the wild dogs could at last finish a meal. And in true fashion they gulped down as much as they could and then took the ingested meat back to their pups.

After this exhilarating morning we drove back past where the kill had been and were amazed to find a jackal and a hooded vulture on the ground, looking for scraps, and a white-backed vulture and a tawny eagle, both in an unusual truce of patience, waiting on a nearby stump. In the background, and very out of focus in this shot, you can just make out two hyenas… They were on their way back to see if perhaps they could force another morsel down and the white-backed vulture and tawny eagle were not about to take their chance on the ground just yet.

It was amazing to see five big scavenger species together like this, and the ground would soon be teeming with invertebrates and microbes all doing their job in breaking down the carcass completely and leaving nothing to waste.

It does make you sit back and think when some of the world’s most endangered species (wild dogs and vultures) along with the other scavengers, can consume all that they need without generating one piece of plastic, paper or carbon emission etc. And not a scrap goes to waste. There’s a lot our species should learn from wild predators and scavengers when it comes to consumption and waste generation.