There are hundreds of species of plants and animals in Kruger*. But one is quite small, rarely seen, and if it is seen, is largely ignored. Yet it is responsible for one of the most critical functions in this large national park – ‘Dung Removal’.
This is not a task to be dismissed lightly. The fauna of the park includes some rather large species who eat an enormous amount and consequently create huge piles of excrement.
The main waste recycler is a small beetle. As such, it spends most of its time in the long grass and is effectively invisible. However, on one particular day, we were fortunate to come across not one, but three of these beetles – appropriately named ‘Dung beetles’.
These patient creatures compact the dung of other animals into balls which are larger than themselves. Once nicely rounded, they quickly roll these balls away and may then bury them for safe keeping. Surprisingly, given the amount of dung generated in the ecosystems of parks like Kruger, competition is still fierce and the beetles may lose their ball of dung if it is not quickly hidden.
There are many species of dung beetles in the world, but the shiny ones we saw are apparently called Copris pecuarius.
The reason we could see the dung beetles was because they were moving their balls of dung across the roadway. Unable to get out of our vehicles, we could only drive as close as possible and zoom in with the camera. Consequently, the photos are far from perfect, but they do show amazing creatures working very hard!
Other animals which find dung of interest include baboons. I have watched the young ones pick patiently through a pile of elephant dung, looking for seeds which they ate with relish!
*Kruger National Park is a large game reserve in South Africa.