Bit­ing off more than you can chew

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QROB DICKIE from Cape Town writes: Dur­ing a re­cent trip to the Kgala­gadi Trans­fron­tier Park, we slowed down for a kori bus­tard near the turn-off to the Auchter­lonie pic­nic site. We were amazed to see a dead male meerkat clasped in its beak. The bird wan­dered off down the road, dropped the life­less meerkat and walked away. I was in­trigued that a kori bus­tard would prey on a meerkat, but then I rea­soned that it was more likely the bird had chanced upon some road­kill. Fur­ther down the road we came across an anx­iously search­ing fam­ily of meerkats. Would your ex­perts agree with us?

AMICHO FER­REIRA, Kgala­gadi se­nior sec­tion ranger, says: It’s dif­fi­cult to say with cer­tainty what might have hap­pened here. Kori bus­tards usu­ally prey on in­sects and on small rep­tiles like lizards and chameleons. They’ll also eat veg­etable mat­ter like seeds, berries, bulbs, and even aca­cia gum. A mam­mal as large as a meerkat wouldn’t be com­mon food for a kori bus­tard, which might ex­plain why the bird dropped the meerkat and walked off. You’re right that the meerkat was prob­a­bly road­kill. If the bird was still young, it might have picked up the dead meerkat sim­ply to in­ves­ti­gate what it was. An­other pos­si­bil­ity is that there might have been some mag­gots in the car­cass that would have been a wel­come snack to an in­sect-lov­ing bird.

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