When biologists in Washington set up a motion-triggered camera at an elk carcass recently, they captured a series of snapshots showcasing nature's "waste not, want not" ways.

[The following images may be upsetting to some viewers.]

The remains belonged to an adult female elk, who had been radio-collared as part of a survival study within the largest elk herd in Washington. Researchers tracked down the carcass after detecting a "mortality signal" from the elk's collar, which usually indicates that the animal has died, or is no longer wearing its tracker.

Marks on the carcass pointed to the culprit: it appeared that the elk had fallen prey to a mountain lion. To confirm the cause of death, biologists set up a camera at the site and waited. The resulting snapshots captured not just the feline predator, but a few well-known scavengers as well. 

"This video is a compilation of thousands of still photographs," explains the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife (WDFW). "It shows all the wildlife species that fed on this carcass over a week, including the species that killed it."

After the mountain lion had its fill, other visitors arrived to dispose of the leftovers: the timelapse shows several cameos by crows, coyotes and turkey vultures. The snapshots perfectly capture the crucial clean-up role these underappreciated animals play in local ecosystems. Coyotes in particular are vilified as killers of pets and raiders of rubbish, yet in reality the diets of these opportunistic eaters are varied and flexible, made up largely of small rodents (a useful rat-control service) and the occasional scavenged carcass. 


Top header image: Tom Talbott, Flickr