Most African animals know to steer clear of hippos. With their tremendous teeth and ornery dispositions, they're among the most dangerous animals on the planet – even crocodiles don't want to end up on their bad side. But when a hippo dies, it becomes very popular indeed. A big male can be up to five metres (16ft) long and weigh over three tons – that's a lot of meat lying around for any creature looking for a free meal.

That was the scene just recently in South Africa's Londolozi Game Reserve, when night fell on the body of a hippo lying dead near a waterhole. The alluring carcass attracted droves of Africa's most famous scavengers: vultures and hyenas. 

Posted to the Londolozi YouTube channel, this amazing footage serves up snippets of a lengthy scavenging process. With meat plentiful at the start of the feast, the scavengers huddled close together to dig into the hippo's soft belly, one of the only easy targets on an animal with skin up to five centimetres (2in) thick. But as time went on and the flesh receded, squabbles became more common: at times, the hyenas chased away vultures (or each other) for control over the tastiest parts of the carcass.

For about 24 hours, the hippo was a hub of activity. "Vultures were dotted like Christmas decorations in all the dead trees for up to a kilometre in each direction, patiently digesting the hippo meat they had consumed," recalls ranger James Tyrrell in a Londolozi blog post. "Hyenas would come and go, eating as much as they could and then moving off to digest what they had already consumed."

Even after most of the body was devoured, vultures hung around to grab the tiniest scraps of meat, and hyenas did what they do better than any other animal in the bush: crunched through bones to get at the nutrition inside. 

There are only a few things that can bring down a big healthy hippo – and one of them is a bigger hippo. Fights are extremely common, especially when resources are scarce, and it's not at all unusual for these disagreements to end in death. Tyrrell explains that a recent violent bout in the waterhole was the most likely cause of this male's demise. It's unfortunate for the hippo, but in a thriving ecosystem, one animal's death is another animal's dinner.



Top header image: Pixabay