I hope you’ve already eaten.
While watching a pack of African wild dogs (Lycaon pictus) sleeping near a waterhole in the drizzling rain I noticed a few hooded vultures (Necrosyrtes monachus) skulking about on the ground. Every now and again they would peck at something and eat it, and I wondered what it was since vultures are scavengers, feeding mostly from carcasses of dead animals. You often see them cleaning up the scraps of meat from a kill made by wild dogs. The dogs hadn’t made a kill nearby, and so it was that my binos and big lens revealed they were eating the wild dogs’ faeces!
This is a behaviour known as coprophagy and is somehow far more endearing when done by dung beetles.
Coprophagy by vertebrates is rare, especially among birds. Wild dogs, being carnivores, eat meat and wolf down large chunks of it at a time. Not all the nutrients are digested and some are discharged in the faeces. It is thought that hooded vultures obtain undigested nutrients from consuming the faeces, although they could be obtaining some other rare nutrients as well or instead.
There are some other ‘phagy’ behaviours I looked up too, which include: Anurophagy: eating frogs; Araneophagy: eating spiders; Durophagy: eating hard-shelled or exoskeleton bearing organisms; Geophagy: eating earth; Haematophagy: eating blood; Keratophagy or Ceratophagy: eating horny material, including snakes eating their own skin after shedding; Lepidophagy: eating fish scales; Mucophagy: eating mucus; Myrmecophagy: eating ants and/or termites; Ophiophagy: eating snakes; Osteophagy: eating bones; Saprophagy: eating decaying organic matter; and Xylophagy: eating wood.
What’s even more rare than this photo of a hooded vulture eating faeces is that it also shows the (unimpressed -looking) wild dogs. African wild dogs are listed as Endangered by the IUCN Red List, but hooded vultures are listed as Critically Endangered!
A call crackled over the radio that the tracking team had found the River Pride on a buffalo kill near Hwata Pan. “Bonanza!” I thought. Not only because this would provide good photo opportunities of lions feeding in relatively open area, and the clean-up crew of hyenas and vultures that would make no bones of the carcass over the next few days, but mainly because Hwata Pan is where we have our sunken photo hide, and the lions would have to go and drink there at some stage during the feeding frenzy. I’ve waited for 10 years to get a shot of a predator drinking at eye level to me from this hide – could this be the chance at last?
The Malilangwe Dam is an amazing fishing destination. The most sought out species are tigerfish and tilapia.The best times of the year for fishing is when the water is warm – a good reminder is good fishing months all have an “r” in them from September to April. That said, we have still been enjoying some great fishing now in May – all the photos in this story are from early May.
It is most satisfying watching elephants enjoying a mud bath! It starts off with the approaching walk, an elephant has when making his/her way to the water source. To describe it, I would have to say it’s an excited, exaggerated, fast walk while bobbing their heads up and down and to the sides at the same time. We call it ‘the water walk’. Even for the novice person you can pick up the excitement of the elephant looking forward to a thirst-quenching cool drink, usually followed by refreshing mud bath.
I was camped out again, on my favourite dam wall that offers a good vantage point and a relatively safe refuge from the vehicle. I was trying to tell myself that really it was an afternoon of birding – just sitting quietly with binos and a bird book and trying to ID whatever came along, and enjoying the isolation and peace. But really what I wanted and hoped and wished for was a solitary black rhino.