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A Wake of Vultures in the African Bush

May 1, 2012 by  



I have always been amused by collective nouns. An obstinacy of buffalo, an implausibility of wildebeest, and my personal favourite, a parliament of owls.

None of these is more appropriate than the one referring to a group of vultures on a carcass. A ‘wake’ is certainly an apt title for the raucous, squabbling group of birds seen with their heads covered in blood, pecking, clawing, and generally providing entertainment for any guests and rangers fortunate enough to be there at the time.

Vultures Fighting 

Two vultures square off on the giraffe carcass.

Two lionesses of the Sparta pride recently brought down a very large giraffe bull. We think the bull was most likely lying down when the lionesses made their move, as a wide awake giraffe of this size would mostly likely have been to big a target even for these proficient huntresses.  Be that as it may, we had an amazing few days viewing, as first the lionesses fed, sometimes with the two oldest Sparta cubs in attendance, and then three of the Majingilane collection arrived, taking the lion’s share of the carcass, so to speak.

Vultures Fighting 

It is every vulture for themselves at feathers and claws are used to fend off competition

The vultures, meanwhile, were relegated to the sidelines, forced to wait on the ground nearby or perch in the dead leadwood trees with which the area was dotted. They would only have their chance to feed once the larger predators – the lions, and later the hyenas – had fully satiated themselves.

Vultures Fighting 

Here you can see the claws and beaks of the two vultures digging into one another as they fight for the prime feeding rights to the carcass.

Their patience was rewarded after a few days, when the apex predators had moved off during the night, and what was left of the kill was suddenly up for grabs.  Whitebacked vultures dominated the feeding while the hooded vultures hopped around the fringes, contenting themselves with scraps. A couple of lappet-faced vultures made their presence known, as well as some relatively rare whiteheaded vultures. They gorged themselves for a few days, until only the larger bones and the skull remained.

Vultures Fighting 

One vulture makes their presence known as he lands on another, digging claws into the feathers and exposed neck.

Vultures Fighting 

The subordinate vulture reacts by trying to shake off the attacker. Shortly after the lower vulture limped away from the carcass leaving space for the large one to feed.

Driving past the site today, only a few vulture feathers drift in the breeze, while the steadily bleaching bones glint in the sun, a stark reminder of the savage nature of life in the bush.

Written and Photographed by: James Tyrrell

A Once-in-a-Lifetime Sighting in South Africa

January 12, 2012 by  


New Cub Thumb

Many people have a bucket list. Things to do and see or places to go before they die. Our sighting last week was something so rarely witnessed in the bush that nobody would sensibly put it on their list, knowing how remote their chances of seeing it to be: a lioness ferrying her newborn cubs from one den-site to another, carrying them each in her mouth, before returning for the next one.



The Sparta lioness carries one of her cubs across a clearing on her way to her new den site - James Tyrrell 

The Sparta lioness carries one of her cubs across a clearing on her way to her new den site

A brilliant spot by Candy, one of my guests, revealed the lioness to us, walking about 50 meters to our right in a dense thicket.  Reversing quickly, I managed to get a brief view of her back as she crossed a gap in the bushes, but we failed to find her again after we took the vehicle in after her. We guessed that she was one of the Sparta lionesses, most likely returning to the pride from a den-site, as we were fairly certain that her 10-day absence from the other four females meant she had given birth somewhere.

Driving around to a road further along her anticipated line of march, we failed to find her or any tracks in the sand, so we headed back to where we had last seen her to try and establish in which direction she had walked. We walked towards the thicket, stepping down into a wide drainage line scarcely 20m from the vehicle. As we descended, we both glanced to our left at the same time, and froze immediately as we saw the lioness staring at us from about 50 meters away. She was coming towards us, moving in the direction we had originally seen her going, but she was now further back towards where she had come from. The small bundle she was holding in her mouth immediately sent our pulses racing, as it was very evident that it was a tiny, tiny cub.

Sparta Lioness carrying her cub - James Tyrrell 

Sparta Lioness carrying her cub

We immediately retreated back to the vehicle, and watched her calmly walk by in front of us, barely glancing in our direction, and disappear once more into the thicket where she had first disappeared. I was pretty incoherent with excitement by this time, scarcely believing what we were so privileged to be seeing. Again losing her in the thicket, we were amazed to see her re-emerge after only about 5 minutes. She was clearly going back for another cub. We re-positioned ourselves on the road with a clear view in both directions, and were rewarded when she returned after a further 5 mins, bearing another precious cargo. She didn’t come back out and so we moved off, absolutely speechless.

The Lioness disappears into the scrub with her young cub - James Tyrrell 

The Lioness disappears into the scrub with her young cub

As long as I work in the bush, I will most likely never again see something so special!

Written and Photographed by: James Tyrrell
Filmed by: Derek Pollard