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The Peregrine Fund Notes From The Field
An Unusual Carcass Consumer
Corinne Kendall — in East Africa Project    Share

Carcasses are not just for vultures. In fact, a huge number of animals eat carcasses. Hyenas and jackals are regular connoisseurs but lions and mongoose will also partake. Warthogs often show a lot of interest in carcasses and even baboons will get in on the meat when they can. On one particular interesting occasion, I watched a hippo play with a drown wildebeest, grabbing it by the tail and flinging it around in an unsuccessful effort to break it apart. Today’s carcass consumer takes the cake.

This morning we came across a large herd of giraffe right up near the main entrance and walking along briskly. The giraffes were bending down occasionally in the awkward way that they must with front legs spread so that their head can touch the ground. Their heads leaned close to a small black object and I assumed they were getting a drink from the many rain puddles that have formed in this surpringly rainy dry season. As we neared the huge animals, it became clear that they were doing something else. They were licking an old wildebeest carcass. Two male giraffe stood next to each other taking turns bending over to lick the carcass. Upon lifting their heads, they would phlem (a behavior usually reserved for trying to decode female giraffe urine and assess whether or not the female would be receptive) as if processing this new food source. The carcass they had chosen was quite dry and withered – a mere peel of what had once been a thriving animal. One giraffe began grabbing the carcass, pulling it along the ground with its monstrous head. Then in a seemingly effortless act (and act I was particularly impressed with given the giraffe only have a bottom set of front teeth), the giraffe grasped the carcass (more in its lips than its mouth really) and lifted it the full 16 feet to its erect height. The giraffe stood with the wildebeest carcass in its mouth. The carcass hung a few feet down from the giraffes’ jaws, horns hanging to one side and ribs extended beyond the skin. Then the giraffe dropped the carcass and it fell to the ground, only to be lifted once more. Three or four giraffes gathered around two different carcasses, licking and lifting the dried bits of meat. I’ve heard of giraffes sucking on bones to get the calcium, but actually lifting the carcass seemed particularly unusual. Perhaps the dead wildebeest were the latest source of salt for giraffes, but that still didn’t really explain why they would go so far as to lift them up. Nonetheless it was a truly interesting sighting and definitely a new carcass consumer.

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