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article imageVultures focus on the dying not the living

By Tim Sandle     Jan 22, 2014 in Environment
How do vultures know which group of animals to follow? It appears that the birds use "intelligence data" to predict which animals are most likely to die first.
To examine the patterns and behaviors of vultures a research team looked at 39 vultures (15 Ruppell’s vultures, 12 white-backed vultures and 12 lappet-faced vultures) from the Masai Mara National Reserve in Kenya with GPS transmitters and tracked them for months as the birds flew across East Africa.
Although the birds had different behaviors, they had one thing in common: they all showed a preference for visiting the wildebeest herds in Kenya in the dry season, July to October.
The researchers have interpreted this, according to Science News, to indicate that the vultures take into consideration not only their potential prey’s location but also how likely it is that the prey will die and provide the vultures with a meal. Because low rainfall should result in less food for wildebeest and more wildebeest deaths, the best time to find dead wildebeest is during the dry season.
This conclusion was drawn because during other times of the year the birds exhibited different behaviors. In other seasons, some went to areas outside the migratory paths, probably trying to find dead animals among the region’s non-migratory populations. Others headed for other areas of Kenya, such as the Tsavo National Parks.
The research was led by Corinne Kendall of Princeton University and it has been published in PLOS ONE. The article is titled “African Vultures Don’t Follow Migratory Herds: Scavenger Habitat Use Is Not Mediated by Prey Abundance.”
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