Biting off more than you can chew
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.