Scavengers are perhaps the most underappreciated and misunderstood animals on the planet. And there is no group of animals on land quite as specialized at scavenging as the vultures. They are the best at it.
Most animals referred to as scavengers, such as hyenas, are actually not dependent on scavenging. They are what’s called ‘facultative scavengers’, meaning that they can hunt for themselves but will scavenge when they get the opportunity. Most vultures on the other hand are what is called ‘obligate scavengers’, meaning they only obtain their food through scavenging. A few species of vultures do hunt a little bit too but they mainly depend on scavenging for their food.
This scavenging lifestyle has led to vultures developing what is in my opinion the most hardcore digestive system of all animals. The extreme acidity of their digestive tract allows them to eat carcasses infected with the most lethal of viruses and bacteria and they will not get sick. They will in fact neutralize it and prevent it from spreading.
Today’s Ndege Wetu post pays tribute to Kenya’s vultures, most of which are highly threatened with extinction.
Two other vultures occur in Kenya, both of which I have never seen: White-headed Vulture (Trigonoceps occipitalis) and Bearded Vulture (or Lammergeier) (Gypaetus barbatus). The Lammergeier is now so rare in Kenya that it has become almost like a mythical creature for bird watchers and ornithologists.
The decline in Kenya’s vultures has been caused by many factors but the main one is secondary poisoning due to human-carnivore conflict. The long-term conservation of vultures in Kenya therefore seems intimately linked to the conservation of big cats, hyenas and wild dogs through the prevention of livestock depredation and resultant retaliatory poisoning.
Feel free to contact me if interested in how you can help support vulture conservation efforts in Kenya.
If you enjoyed reading this, look out for the next installment of the NDEGE WETU series next Thursday!