Splashing through the puddles pooling along the muddy roads in the Malilangwe Wildlife Trust in our game drive vehicle, we have our eyes peeled for any kind of activity, big or small. The rain has been falling since sunrise so it was a late start, and not just for us, the birds were quiet this morning, preferring to save their strength until the sun showed its face or at least the rain stopped falling. Now a weak gleam peeks through the clouds and the bush has come alive, the dung beetles have emerged to forage for any fresh dung that has been left for them to roll into neat balls and skillfully wheel away. The Chafer Beetles in their glorious colours are off to a flying start in search of breakfast. The birds too have hopped out from their leafy covers and are holding their wings away from their body in an attempt to dry off.
Away in the distance we spot some large shapes circling in the sky and off to the right some perched in a tall dead tree, Vultures! Seeing these huge birds could mean there is a kill around, and that could mean a predator. Making our way closer, we can see a lot more on the ground, all waiting. Then we spot a big male Lion tucked away under an acacia tree and next to him is a dead wildebeest that is half eaten but still has a lot of flesh on it. The Lion obviously is not finished with his prize yet as he lies close next to it, ready to chase off any attempts to steal even the smallest scrap of meat off it.
Meanwhile dotted all around are about 30 vultures. The White Backed Vultures are the most common vultures in Zimbabwe, their sparsely covered necks sport a sprinkling of white down with a beady eye, and their brown plumage, which starts out darker in colour when young, becomes paler with age giving them a shaggy brown cloak look. Their wing span can be anything up to 2.2m across and they weigh in at around 5kgs. There are 20 or so of these huge birds huddled on the wet grass, some grooming some seeming to snooze but all keeping a close eye out for the departure of the Lion. There are also a few Hooded Vultures dotted around, this species is considerably smaller than the White Backed and a little less common. They have a bare wrinkly skin head and thick fluffy feathers down the back of its neck, with darker plumage than its cousin.
Vultures are becoming critically endangered, they are sort after for local medicinal purposes as well as being the sad result of the poaching of animals using poisons, who they feed off and ingest the poison. This, along with habitat loss, means that at the current rate of decline, we could see their extinction in our lifetime. A report of 94 vulture deaths on one elephant carcass not too long ago, just shows how interlinked all of nature is. Vultures clean the environment of dead animals, if these creatures weren’t there to pick the bones clean, disease and rotting flesh would litter the landscape. The plight of the poaching of elephants and rhinos, has been well publicized but we forget about the knock on affect that these types of activities have on the rest of the circle of life. Vulture Conservation Program is a project which is working with communities and National Parks to help educate people on the importance of the vultures around the world, and highlight their plight as well as come up with solutions to reduce their decline. Please see their website, VulPro, for more information or for ways you can support.
Moving our focus back to the lion, we realized that with so much meat left on the wildebeest the lion would not be moving from this area until he had gorged himself a few more times. We left him to his meal and his many feathered spectators.