Scavenging: A way of life

Julia Wheeler Photography-63
Photo by Julia Wheeler

Scavenging is an act of making use of what has been discarded, sounds great right, like reducing, reusing and recycling. Humans however, frown upon the very act of picking up trash let alone finding a use for yourself in it. We cannot share and we do not accept hand me downs, they make us look bad and somewhat pathetic to those watching, everybody wants to go out and get their own right!

Who like me would rather go through a box of tea bags in just a week than share a tea bag, after all, its gross right? 

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That really is what our minds tell us about scavenging, like scavenging a teabag – its gross! This is why it is hard for us to like the scavenging animals, they are gross to us, why can’t they go get their own too?! To most people I have spoken to about the eating habits of carnivores it is inconceivable that lions, cheetahs and the charismatic eagles scavenge OHHH NOOO! They are too powerful and beautiful to eat okuzifeleyo kodwa (what died on it own). Truth of the matter is, God, mother nature, the universe or whatever cosmology it is you believe in has systems in place that are not wasteful, systems reliant on scavenging. Vultures are a big part of that system as almost all 23 of the species we have in the world are sole scavengers. As a result, they are the subject of loathing and scorn in almost all modern culture. Lets be open minded now shall we, let’s talk about vultures.

Vultures are a guild of birds classified in two groups, Old and New World Vultures. Old World Vultures are vultures found in all of the world except the Americas, which is called the New World. By the way, vultures are found on every continent on earth except Antarctica and Australia, Antarctica I am not surprised by, but well Australia?!, we have got to give it to Australia for being the peculiar child in all things wildlife. Essentially, Old World Vultures are all those found in Europe, Africa and Asia and New World vultures are those in North and South America. As you can imagine, being so far apart, these vultures are very different as they descend from different evolutionary lines, however, the case of these two vulture groups is one of convergent evolution. Simply put, convergent evolution is evolving independently from different evolutionary lines only to end up similar because you have evolved similar traits and adapted to similar environments  to take up the same roles and survive the same way. New World vultures are largely called Condors instead of vultures, only two smaller species are given the name vulture  which in some states of America are actually called buzzards.

These birds have a vital role to play in the ecosystem, they give arguably one of the best ecosystem services that ensures the overall health of others living in it. In my country, when I was a teenager many many many years ago, the economic meltdown affected basic service delivery to a point garbage collection became a rarity. Anyone that lived in such conditions even for a day of their lives has an understanding of the importance of having waste disposed of and collected. Vultures and scavengers do just that. They are the refuse collectors of our planet and a world without them will just be doom for us in more ways than just the waste of carcasses left unconsumed.

In this category, I am going to write a series of articles on vultures, conservation, behavioral ecology, culture and everything else vulture related. Feel free to drop me your questions or issues and topics you would like me to cover in future articles, on the comments. Otherwise, share your experiences and opinions with me on vultures, have you ever seen them? What do you think and know about them? Have you ever recycled a tea bag?

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