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Identifying forensically relevant urban scavengers in Johannesburg, South Africa

NCJ Number
Science & Justice Volume: 62 Issue: 3 Dated: May 2022 Pages: 399-409
Date Published
May 2022
11 pages

Since unidentified human remains are often recovered in urban environments in South Africa and they often exhibit animal scavenging modifications, this study sought to identify scavenging animals prevalent in two urban environments in Johannesburg, South Africa and describe their scavenging and scattering behaviors.


Six pig carcasses (Sus scrofa domesticus) (30–80 kg) were placed in a veldt in Johannesburg and in an abandoned building complex. Motion-activated cameras recorded the scavenging activities. Scavenger species were identified and their behaviours, scattering pattern, and scavenging bone modifications were described. Slender mongooses (Galerella sanguinea) were the most prolific veldt scavengers. They scattered remains to a maximum distance of 10.5 m in two directions: north and southeast. These mongooses scavenged during the advanced and dry decomposition stages. Gnawing on the angle of the mandible - with multiple parallel scores on the flat surfaces and the angle margin having a stepped appearance - may be a distinguishing scavenging modification feature of the slender mongoose. Hadeda ibis (Bostrychia hagedash) were the only scavengers recorded scavenging on the intestines of a pig carcass in the abandoned building complex. They favored colonizing insects and created multiple, large holes in the skin and removed the lips to access the insects. The described scavenging behaviours will assist in the reconstruction of postmortem events in forensic cases and the location and collection of scattered remains in Southern Africa. (Published abstract provided)

Date Published: May 1, 2022