Vultures (Animal Scavengers), by Sandra Markle
In doing some random personal research I came across this book about vultures aimed at young reading audiences. While most readers would likely find the vulture to be a terrible and unpleasant animal, this book is part of a few books that I have seen that provide a positive look at vultures as scavengers and that is part of a series of books that seeks to present a positive view of scavengers in general. This book is, as one might expect, generously filled with photographs of vultures engaged in vulture activities, including standing guard over carcasses, eating with friends and family, majestically soaring in the sky, sitting in a tree with one’s neighbors, conversing with other creatures looking for free food like jackals, relaxing after a successful trip to the all-you-care-to-eat carcaus buffet, and escaping charging elephants. It is impressive to me at least that someone took the time to take all of these pictures of vultures in their normal day-to-day existence and that someone thought that explaining the life and behavior of vultures would be of interest to readers, especially young ones. I must admit being a bit fond of vultures myself, more so than most people are, but I always thought that was a very odd thing.
This book has large pages but the text is large and limited and most of the book is taken up by photographs. That’s not a bad thing as this book is aimed at young readers and presents a discussion of vultures as being important and necessary animals to an ecosystem. The author introduces the subject of scavengers and then talks about their role and that nearly always at least one vulture is involved among the scavengers of a given area. After that the author discusses the types of vultures that live in the world, namely Old and New world vultures, as well as their flying skills. The author then focuses her time on vultures in Africa, looking at how they behave on the savanna, using their eyesight as well as their sense of smell. The author discusses the competition between different vultures for carrion meat as well as the interaction between vultures and other animals who all live in the same area. The author provides a discussion of their noises that they make while eating as well as their satisfied digestion after having eaten huge amounts of food and the stomach acid that dissolves the rancid meat they eat. There are also discussions about the growing up of king vultures from chick to adult that suggest the author has spent some time watching the animals, and in less than 40 pages the book is complete.
This is a book that succeeds at its target, albeit a modest target. It provides a glance at the way that vultures live (although it focuses on Old World Vultures, it would appear, rather than New World Vultures that I am personally more familiar with). And while vultures are not the most obviously appealing animals, they are genuinely quirky and this book does a good job at showing how it is that vultures communicate with each other and how they try to avoid conflict while enjoying easy and plentiful eating. Given the sort of things that vultures eat, it is unsurprising that they have few natural enemies, since few people would want to eat what the vulture has been eating and only a few species (like human beings) find it at all attractive to kill them. For those of us who are not hostile to vultures and who see scavenging as a vital aspect of life if an unglamorous one, this book provides a very interesting tale when it comes to giving young people a reason to look at vultures in a new light and to respect what they provide to the world, and hopefully the other books in the series do similar work in that regard.