Bone crushing carnivores and their significance to osteodystrophy in griffon vulture chicks


  • *McGregor Museum, P.O. Box 316, Kimberley 8300, South Africa

  • *Department of National Parks and Wild Life Management, P.O. Box 8365, Causeway, Zimbabwe


The natural removal of 89 ungulate carcasses by predators and scavengers was monitored in various wildlife reserves and ranching areas of South Africa. Carnivores responsible for the bone remains were determined. Spotted hyaenas and, to a lesser extent, Brown hyaenas, were the only carnivores that regularly chewed bones. When hyaenas were absent, months of weathering were required before the smaller bones became disarticulated and able to be removed by vultures. The bone-collecting behaviour and related aspects of breeding of two species of griffon vulture were studied at five different nesting colonies in southern Africa—one Cape vulture colony and one White-backed vulture colony in or near wildlife reserves, as well as two Cape vulture colonies and one White-backed vulture colony in ranching land. A total of 2825 bones was found in or below the vulture nests. These bones were categorized and measured. Hyaena-produced bone fragments were found only in the colonies in the wild areas—none of the 387 chicks examined here had osteodystrophy (metabolic bone disease). By contrast, in the ranching areas, vultures collected larger and less fragmented bones. Many Cape vulture chicks had osteodystrophy (130 of 1917 examined), as did two White-backed vulture chicks (of 196 examined). In 1977, artificial feeding stations, ‘restaurants’ where carcass skeletons were crushed, were established for Cape vultures. Since then, the incidence of osteodystrophy has declined from 17% to 2–5% in 1983. It is clear that bone fragments are an essential dietary requirement, providing calcium for correct skeletal growth of griffon vulture chicks.