Second look at vultures?

Think of a giraffe lying on the Serengeti plain. He has just died, maybe of disease, maybe he was killed by a pride of lions, but now he’s a 19-foot-long, 4,000-pound mound of meat, which very soon is going to stink and rot and muck up the neighborhood.

The lions that did it will eat roughly 35 pounds each. With five or six lions, that’s a start, but there’s a lot of giraffe left. Hyenas will help. Jackals will too, but the bulk of the clean up goes to the hero of my tale, nature’s prize janitor — hard-working, efficient, unbeloved, unadmired, and now down on its luck. I am talking about the vulture. The vulture needs a little bit of love …

… not only because these busy birds clean up giraffes (and hippos and gazelles and lions in Africa) weighing, by one estimate, about 12 million kilograms, or the weight of about 200,000 men — but because they do it all over the world, gobbling up dead goats, cows, deer, rats at no charge, recycling that flesh back into other living things and then into the Earth.