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Scavenger activity in a peri-urban agricultural setting in the Highveld of South Africa

NCJ Number
International Journal of Legal Medicine Volume: 135 Dated: 2020 Pages: 979–991
Date Published
September 2020
13 pages

Since scavenging animals often scatter skeletal remains of forensic interest and cause scavenging damage, the current study sought to identify scavenging animals in the peri-urban agricultural Highveld of South Africa, describe their scattering patterns, and the damage they cause to bone.


Ten pig carcasses (Sus scrofa domesticus) (40–80 kg) were placed at the University of Pretoria’s Mierjie Le Roux Experimental Farm (Highveld) in summer and winter. Motion-activated cameras recorded the scavenging. Scavenger species were identified and their behaviors, scattering pattern, and the damage they cause to bone were described. Scavenging was primarily by black-backed jackals; however, mongooses (slender, yellow, and water mongoose), Cape porcupine, and honey badger were also active. Remains were commonly scattered in two directions by jackals. The distance of scattering was heavily influenced by fencing. The remains were scattered within a maximum radius of 73.7 m. The remains were scavenged and skeletonized faster in summer. Jackals caused minimal damage to bone, isolated to superficial, nonspecific scores, furrows, and punctures. A few mongoose bone alterations were present as jagged gnaw marks on the angle of the mandible and gnawing of the vertebral spinous process. Cape porcupine bone damage included gnaw marks on the condyle of a femur and head of humerus, and destruction of the proximal and distal ends of a tibia. The described scattering pattern and bone modification patterns will assist in the recovery and analysis of scavenged remains found in peri-urban agricultural areas in South Africa. (publisher abstract modified)

Date Published: September 1, 2020