When we think of vultures we tend to see them as greedy and selfish raptors. I think we are all in agreement that they are not the prettiest of birds and their scavenging nature does nothing to help their plight. Vultures have no shame when there is a kill. They will sit patiently and wait their turn at the carcass. Then they will fight over whatever scrap of meat is left on the bones. Each vulture can consume up to a kilogram of meat in a minute and they are able to strip a carcass down to its bones within a few hours.
That being said, vultures are clean birds and after a gorging session, they will take to the nearest river to bathe. They also play a vital role in the veld’s eco-system by cleaning up all the carrion which minimises the chance of animal disease.
When enjoying a Kruger Park safari, keep a look out up in the sky, as vultures spend most their time soaring high in the sky. They have exceptional eyesight and when they see a kill they will descend into the nearby tree and wait, sometimes up to 36 hours, to get their share of the kill. These birds are built to scavenge, having strong hooked beaks made to tear meat. Unlike birds of prey, they do not have claws on their feet to catch live animals.
The most common vulture in the Kruger National Park is the White-Backed Vulture. Their favourite roosting spot is up high in the Acacia Tree. They roost in large communes and sleep with their heads tucked under their wings.
A threatened vulture is a Lappet-Faced Vulture and it is estimated that there are only about 49 breeding pairs left in the Kruger National Park. Breeding pairs rarely interact with each other and the only time they interact is at a carcass. Even if they arrive late at a carcass, these vultures will find something to eat, as they eat the skin, tendons and ligaments which other vultures don’t tend to eat. As unpleasant looking as vultures are, the Lappet-Faced Vulture is known as the most hideous bird in the world.
There are only about 65 Hooded Vultures in the Kruger National Park. These are solitary birds that will actively follow hyena and wild dogs in an attempt to get to the kill as soon as possible. Hooded Vultures rush into a kill and grab chunks of meat and then take it to the outskirts of the area to eat before rushing back for another chunk. They have a thinner beak and can often be seen pecking in the soil around a kill to pick up the scraps dropped by other vultures of animals.
The Cape Vulture is nomadic and can travel hundreds of kilometres from its nest. They can be seen around Orpen usually in groups of up to 100 birds. Cape Vultures eat the muscle tissue and internal organs of the kill. Within five minutes it can fill its crop and that is enough food for up to three days.