Vultures Gang Up on Cheetah, Steal Its Dinner

If you thought a hungry cheetah would beat out any other animal for a fresh kill—you’d be wrong.

This fascinating video from Kruger National Park in South Africa shows a gang of vultures apparently bullying cheetahs away from an impala they just killed for a meal.

According to experts, this isn’t really surprising. “Of the three African big cats, cheetahs are the most fragile,” says Luke Dollar, a conservation biologist and the head of National Geographic's  Big Cats Initiative.

“Avoiding injury is really important to them. Cheetah get pushed around a lot,” explains Dollar. “They move fast to take advantage of this kill but will move on if threatened.” (Watch Wild Dogs Try to Steal a Cheetah’s Kill.)

Besides the fact they may have already had enough time to eat their fill, this cheetah mother is with her cub and is likely even more risk-averse than usual.

Corinne Kendall, a vulture expert and National Geographic Society explorer, also says this is a familiar scene. She has often witnessed vultures pushing other animals off kills, but for an unexpected reason.

“We’ve done research that shows hyenas use vultures to find carcasses. Hyenas are arriving at kills faster than if they were doing a general search of the area,” says Kendall, noting that the cheetahs might not just be afraid of the vultures, but what follows the vultures.

Both of these animals are critical to the ecosystem of South Africa. New research has shown cheetahs are dangerously close to extinction with their numbers dwindling below 7,000. (Read more about how cheetahs are nearly extinct.)

Vulture populations across Africa are suffering for a variety of reasons including poaching for traditional medicines and poisoning. Carrion-eaters, vultures are often accidentally poisoned when they feast on pesticide-laced carcasses put out by locals that are intended to poison lions. (Read: Vultures Are Revolting: Here’s Why We Need to Save Them.)

A world without vultures is not a pleasant one—in India vulture populations plummeted after they were accidentally poisoned by feeding on livestock carcasses treated with a specific drug that is toxic to them. Without vultures to clean up carcasses, the population of wild dogs exploded and so did cases of rabies across the country, leading to many human deaths.

Follow Shaena Montanari on Twitter.

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