The role of griffon vultures Gyps africanus and Gyps ruppellii as scavengers


  • D. C. Houston

    1. Edward Grey Institute, Zoology Department, Oxford and Serengeti Research Institute
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    • *Department of Forestry & Natural Resources University of Edinburgh.


In the Serengeti, predator kills formed from 8 to 45 % of the carcasses that griffon vultures fed upon, the remaining carcasses coming from animals that had died from other causes. But since vultures obtained only very small amounts of food from predator kills, they had to rely for their food supply chiefly on the carcasses that were derived from other causes. In the Serengeti the large proportion of migratory ungulates prevent the mammalian predators from building up to a population size that can be responsible for a large proportion of ungulate mortality. It is estimated that the mammalian predators only take about one quarter of the potential food supply available for carnivores. The remaining ungulates die from various other causes, and so provide food for scavengers which varies in abundance and location with the seasons. This is a food supply which mammalian scavengers cannot easily use but griffon vultures, with their adaptations for gliding flight, are able to exploit it. These vultures therefore exploit a basically different food supply from predators and probably evolved as scavengers of migratory ungulate populations.