Hyenas and Vultures by Alison Nicholls

Hyenas and Vultures

If you spend enough time in the African bush, it’s inevitable that you will come across a carcass and, if you’re lucky, hyenas and vultures. Finding a carcass can provide amazing sketching opportunities, as long as you can sit upwind!

Here’s a video I took in South Africa of a hyena and vultures feeding on a dead zebra. Most of the vultures are white-backed but you may see a larger, paler bird, which is a Cape vulture (when the vultures are all over the carcass, look for it standing on the left). 

I would happily sit and sketch beside a carcass all day (or until the wind shifts) but usually I’m traveling with other people and weirdly, many of them would rather see a live animals than dead ones. Ah well…

Hyenas and Vultures by Alison NichollsThis is the sketch I created after I finished taking the video. Spotted Hyenas (there were 2 at one stage) and White-backed Vultures, watercolor on paper 11×14″  

Just for the record, spotted hyenas are very good hunters and are not the cowardly scavengers they are often made out to be – they are one of animals I most look forward to seeing when I’m in the bush. Vultures are true scavengers, feeding only on carrion, but they too are an absolutely necessary part of the food chain. Without vultures, rotting carcasses would pollute waterways and spread disease. In recent years there have been devastating incidents where carcasses have been laced with poisons and in some instances over a hundred vultures (plus hyenas, jackals, raptors and numerous other species) have been killed. Poachers may poison carcasses to actively rid the skies of vultures (whose circling can alert anti-poaching units to the presence of poached animals) or farmers may poison a carcass to kill predators who threaten their livestock. The use of vulture parts in traditional medicine is also a threat, as are collisions with electrical cables. So think better of the vulture – it’s existence saves lives, even if it eats the dead. 

To learn more about the vultures of southern Africa, visit Project Vulture.

Join me for more sketches and stories soon.

2 thoughts on “Hyenas and Vultures

  1. Tracy McLachlan

    Alison, you have really captured the essence of the scene. Both vultures and hyenas are critical in a healthy eco system and are so fascinating to watch.
    Sadly the poisonings still go on but there’s hope that with more education this situation might improve.
    Compensation in wildlife/farming conflict areas is also helpful (I believe this is practiced in conservancy areas of Namibia).
    Thank you for sharing your art,

    1. Alison Post author

      Tracy, you are so right, both hyenas and vultures are critical. Its a shame that they are still portrayed so poorly in most media. But luckily, they both also have avid fans too!
      I’ve heard differing opinions from conservationists on the issue of compensation for livestock lost to predators. Some argue that, when done right, it really can make a difference. But others say it leads to poor livestock management and lack of care for sick or old animals, because the owner knows they will receive compensation if they leave the animal out overnight and it is killed. There’s certainly no easy answer when it comes to the loss of livestock, which can be a family’s entire wealth and future. I think everyone agrees that preventing the conflict is the best option, but that’s easier said than done, isn’t it?


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