I have always been amused by collective nouns. An obstinacy of buffalo, an implausibility of wildebeest, and my personal favourite, a parliament of owls.
None of these is more appropriate than the one referring to a group of vultures on a carcass. A ‘wake’ is certainly an apt title for the raucous, squabbling group of birds seen with their heads covered in blood, pecking, clawing, and generally providing entertainment for any guests and rangers fortunate enough to be there at the time.
Two lionesses of the Sparta pride recently brought down a very large giraffe bull. We think the bull was most likely lying down when the lionesses made their move, as a wide awake giraffe of this size would probably have been too big a target even for these proficient huntresses. Be that as it may, we had an amazing few days viewing, as first the lionesses fed, sometimes with the two oldest Sparta cubs in attendance, and then three of the Majingilane coalition arrived, taking the lion’s share of the carcass, so to speak.
The vultures, meanwhile, were relegated to the sidelines, forced to wait on the ground nearby or perch in the dead leadwood trees with which the area is dotted. They would only have their chance to feed once the larger predators – the lions and later the hyenas – had fully satiated themselves.
Their patience was rewarded after a few days, when the apex predators had moved off during the night, and what was left of the kill was suddenly up for grabs as the sun rose. Whitebacked vultures dominated the feeding while the hooded vultures hopped around the fringes, contenting themselves with scraps. A couple of lappet-faced vultures made their presence known, as well as some relatively rare whiteheaded vultures. They gorged themselves for a few days, until only the larger bones and the skull remained.
Driving past the site today, only a few vulture feathers drift in the breeze, while the steadily bleaching bones glint in the sun, a stark reminder of the savage nature of life in the bush.
Written and Photographed by: James Tyrrell