NatureToday | Dead animal food makes Veloy stronger

Veluwe Nature Management has grown in recent decades. ARK Rewilding Netherlands and other natural organizations are working hard to make Veluwe even more complete and potent. Because although this region – with its red deer, wild boar, swamps and forests – may seem like the pinnacle of Dutch nature, things are not going well. Due to acidification, drought, nitrogen precipitation, and calcium deficiency, large areas of forest are dying out. More than seventy percent of some groups of animals, such as birds and butterflies, have disappeared from the sandy soil. To make nature in Feeloy Wild thus more powerful, the segmented areas are linked to ecological products. Deadwood – the source of life – is increasingly regaining its place in nature. Another essential step: Bring back dead animals and leave them often.

Death makes Philoy live

In the Netherlands, more than 10,000 elk, deer, boar, and other game are played each year. Animals are also occasionally shot as part of the game. Most of these dead animals were destroyed. In doing so, we humans interrupt the natural cycle of life and death that is indispensable to nature. Dead animals are extremely useful: Birds make their nests smooth with hair, all sorts of species—from carrion beetles to wild boars—eat meat, insects lay their eggs in carcasses, and dead animal bones release minerals that can be used in the soil for years to come. This is why ARK and partner organizations claim “Dood does Life” to return dead animals to nature so often, including in Veluwe.

In order to see exactly how nature treats dead animals, we set camera traps at Veluwe in collaboration with site managers on animals hit by a car, on animals shot from game management and on wolf prey. Images from these cameras show, among other things, how a pair of crows with three young are there once a recently dead red deer is returned to nature. The dead red deer is still closed during the early days, and the crows can’t open the skin, so they can’t eat much of the animal just yet. That changes once the wild boar comes on the third day: the red deer is ripped open and the buffet officially opens. A day later, the dead stag is visited by a she-wolf. She’s careful, eats some deer, and then mostly pulls it out of the picture. The crow lands right after she’s gone. Shortly thereafter, two black kites appeared, which is a rarity in the Netherlands! In the wonderful pictures we see kites feeding on the ground. The black kite also participates in kleptoparasites: it steals carrion on the fly from other scavengers.

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The fact that corpses are a common source of food leads to ‘carcass competition’ (Source: ARK Rewilding Netherlands)

The wolf provides a rich table

The wolf plays an important role in the cycle of life and death. A wolf pack kills about 250 ungulates each year. The wolf mainly eats the muscle tissue, organs, and bones of its prey. It ignores the stomach and intestines: they contain vegetable residues that are difficult for the wolf to digest. This is particularly suitable for scavengers such as beetles, crows, red and black kites, and sea eagles. For instead of a closed carcass there is now suddenly a rich table with entrails, gnawed ribs, leftover skins and meats ready for them.

When carrion becomes a proven source of food, scavengers can adapt to it. On the Veluwe, the crow is back thanks to re-submissions. Even the red kite and white-tailed vulture are again breeding in Veluwe and in the vicinity. Moreover, the bearded eagle Eglazine spent the summer in Veluwe for the second year. It has a diet of 80 percent bone marrow and can make use of wolf carcasses.

In October, Buitengewoon took an interest in dead animals, scavengers, and minerals in Veluwe in a special television broadcast. The broadcast can be watched on the Buitengewoon website.

Red kite near a corpse

Mineral deficiency in philoy

Large parts of Veloyi consist of poor, sandy soils. For centuries, we’ve pulled minerals from it. The nitrogen that comes down from the air into the soil causes the minerals to disappear more quickly. It washes into deep soil layers and ends up in very long cycles. This leads to acidity of the soil, which leads to a mineral deficiency. Plants’ health deteriorates, making them susceptible to fungi for example. The lack of minerals also leads to a different composition of plants: leaves, for example, contain more and more nitrogen and less calcium, phosphorus and magnesium. As a result, the animals that eat these leaves do not take in enough calcium, which leads to calcium deficiency. This causes the eggs to crack and the chicks in the nest to break in their legs.

Dead animals also offer a solution to this problem. The ribs and tender bones of dead ungulates are eaten by foxes, boars, and wolves. Parts of this can then be found in their feces, which attract insects. For example, bone remains are scattered over great distances and minerals are returned to the cycle. Thick bones, vertebrae, horns, horns, and skulls remain for a longer period of time. For years, these large bones release minerals that have a temporary effect against nitrogen deposition. Exactly what Veluwe desperately needs. In addition, wolves transfer food in the form of parts of the body of large prey to members of their pack. Great distances are covered in this process.

room for further recovery

If we want to reach a more natural approach to recovery, we are all going to have to give that space. Policy and management should focus as much as possible on the preservation of precious metals. This requires a more complete nature, in which poor parts of nature are linked to nutrient-rich parts, and in which there is more room for dead animals, carnivores, and scavengers that complete the life cycle. For the time being, the carcasses of ungulates kept at Veloy, including horses, cattle and sheep, must be disposed of. An exception to this are the Scottish Highlanders of Veluwezoom, who have been allowed to complete the course for thirty years thanks to their special status. To further restore biodiversity and mineral cycles, it is desirable that this becomes possible in many areas.

Corpses are indispensable to nature.  Click on the drawing to download for free!

more information

  • Through Rewilding de Veluwe, ARK Rewilding Netherlands works with many parties in the wild city of Veluwe. We launch the natural dynamics. Based on concrete practical examples, we look at the entire future of Veluwe.
  • The Dood doen Leven Project was launched in 2008 at the initiative of ARK to create more space for large roosts in nature together with nature organizations and site owners. read more? See our new public brochure Dood does Leven (pdf ; 343kb). This can be requested free of charge by natural organizations via this form.
  • Watch Death Creates Life on Buitengewoon.

Text: Bart Beckers and Mariej Schurz, ARK Reconstructing Holland
Photo: Bildagentur Zunar (main photo: crow on a corpse); David Dohnall, Shutterstock; Han Baumeister Jeroen Helmer, ARK Reconstructing the Netherlands
Film: ARK Rewitting Netherlands

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