It’s find food or starve for most scavengers and the animal with the biggest advantage that gets the meal, whether that is a great sense of smell, speed or being able to dominate an in-demand carcass with size and aggression. People frequently see scavengers as a portent of doom or in the very least a distasteful animal that no one wants in their backyard. Many people do not notice the beauty and ecological importance of the scavenger that Casey Anderson and his wife Missi introduce in America the Wild: Yellowstone Scavengers. Casey and Missi aren’t the first humans to see value in scavengers. You might be surprised at some of the ways scavengers have been employed by the human race.
Vultures at your funeral
In American Western movies when the vultures are circling, chances are you are about to die. Americans look on vulture with respect and fear. In other cultures, however, vultures are not frightening, but rather offer eternal peace after death. The Parsis, who consider cremating the dead a sin and burial contaminating the earth, depend on vultures to put their dead to rest. The bodies of loved ones are wrapped in white muslin and left at the funeral ground to be consumed by vultures. To the Parsi, the vulture is sacred and believed to release the spirit of the dead. Although the Old World vultures are quite different than the New World vultures such as black and turkey vultures, they look similar and serve the same purpose in the avian world. In India, however, they have an especially important job, ferrying the spirits of the dead to their final destination.
Maggots for your medicine
If you are not ready to head off to your final destination, but have a persistent wound threatening to be your demise, you might want to employ some maggots as your physician. Even today maggots are used in medicine. Patients with ongoing ulcers, burns and post-operative wounds, especially ones that have become gangrenous, may need a little more than modern medicine can offer. Sometimes when all other treatments have failed, fly larvae, in particular blowfly species are placed on wounds and covered by a protective dressing. In a 72 hour period, the maggots go to work, dissolving and devouring dead flesh and leaving the healthy living bits behind.
Ravens as protection
Ravens have long been a symbol of protection to England, but they got a bad rap in 1666 when a fire destroyed 13,000 homes and left behind a veritable feast for the birds. The gathering ravens in London dining on friends and family did not find many fans with their survivors and were killed in vast numbers. King Charles, believing that ravens were protectors of the kingdom ordered that domestic ravens be brought in to the Tower London, since wild ravens were no longer tolerated by his people. The ravens were managed and cared for by the Yeoman Raven Master and still are to this day. Chances are the wild ravens actually saved London from further demise. Had the birds not devoured the dead, likely the rats would have gathered, spreading a new bout of bubonic plague.
Wolves as your best friend
Did you hear the one about the wolf that became a dog? While not all scientists agree on the origin of Canis familiaris, the domestic dog, many feel that the dog at your feet evolved from the wolf. Some scientists feel that the scavengers followed nomadic peoples or hung around villages, slowly domesticating themselves. Snacking on discarded leftovers, wolves that were willing to remain nearby would be most likely to survive and breed. The trait for being confident around humans would have been selected for, giving wolves more likely to be companionable a leg up. If this is true, then a scavenger really is a man’s (and a woman’s) best friend!
Get to know the scavengers, check out America the Wild: Yellowstone Scavengers Monday, March 19 at 9pm et/pt!