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…
This 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.