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CHEETAHS, FROGS & DEAD THINGS



Yet another response to a thread that became extinct some weeks ago: 
the discussion concerned with animals that will not eat deceased 
prey. We now know that snakes will eat dead animals, contra popular 
belief. Ospreys will too, again contra popular belief. 

I was _sure_ that I had seen an instance in the literature of 
cheetah eating carrion, and when going through some notes the other 
day I found it: it is in Brain (1981), an anthropological volume I do 
not have the full title of. Brian was concerned with testing the 
validity of the osteodontokeratic culture hypothesised by 
Raymond Dart. Dart suggested, based largely on the co-occurrence of 
australopithecines with 'weapons' like splintered bones and bovid 
horns, that australopithecines were predatory 'killer apes', seeking 
out and horribly butchering other primates and ungulates. Brain's 
(1981) taphonomical and palaeoecological work was instrumental in 
reinterpreting this theory. Supposed australopithecine caches 
of 'killing tools' proved to be gnawing toys collected by porcupines, 
or in cases remnants from carnivoran dens. There is more to it than 
this, but this is not the time or place for such a discussion.

Anyway, in studying the caching and feeding behaviours of extant 
African carnivorans, Brain observed big cats and other taxa in 
action. For the bit on cheetahs, he actually left carrion lying 
around in order to see what the cats would do with it. Surprise 
surprise, the cats did take dead antelopes, and the volume even 
includes photos of a male cheetah carrying off a dead antelope, and 
then consuming it. But then this shouldn't be surprising anyway.

Tony Thulborn reminds me that frogs will not eat dead animals.

"Nothing is more fugitive than the forms of crocodiles" - - Geoffroy 
1831

DARREN NAISH
darren.naish@port.ac.uk