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Scavengers Are Scum

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Calvin: Were they fearsome predators or disgusting scavengers?
Hobbes: Which side will you defend?
Calvin: Oh, I believe they were fearsome predators, definitely.
Hobbes: How come?
Calvin: They're SO much cooler that way.

In fiction (especially xenofiction), a carnivorous animal is very commonly the villain facing off against a bunch of heroic herbivores. But what happens when a carnivore is a hero?

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Simple: make the villain a "lesser" carnivore. Or, in other words, a scavenger.

A very specific form of Carnivore Confusion, this trope presents scavengers as ugly, dirty, greedy, and all around unpleasant creatures. Usually applied to creatures like hyenas, corvids, jackals, and vultures, probably due to Small Taxonomy Pools. They will often be depicted as Villainous Gluttons and Dirty Cowards. Oddly enough, they won't always be depicted as actually scavenging, instead conspiring to eat the still-living protagonists, which kind of defeats the purpose of them being called scavengers to begin with.

This trope is most certainly not Truth in Television. Scavengers in real life are a vital part of any ecosystem, as they feed on the dead and decaying bodies that dirty up the environment and spread disease. And indeed, many active predators will scavenge if they have the chance, even though you will never see a lion or wolf scavenge in fiction. After all, why should they waste energy running after their food when a perfectly good piece of meat is lying right in front of them? That being said, their close association with death makes the scavengers' bad reputation at least somewhat understandable and in some places, scavenging animals are known to be serious pests (cockroaches and raccoons, for example). This trope has had an adverse effect on many of these animals: For example, vulture populations have crashed by 90 percent due to people purposely poisoning carcasses in attempts to get rid of them.

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Curiously, scavengers are rarely depicted as the Big Bad of a story; more commonly, they're depicted as Mooks or secondary antagonists—you're more likely to see them as Big Bads if no other carnivores are filling the role. This has a level of Truth in Television to it, as scavengers in real-life generally stay out of conflicts between larger, stronger meat-eaters (but are not Mooks in real-life, obviously).

Sister trope to Predators Are Mean. Often related to What Measure Is a Non-Cute?. Related to You Dirty Rat!, Creepy Cockroach, Penny-Pinching Crab, and (if humanoid carrion-eaters are included) Our Ghouls Are Creepier. Compare Predation Is Natural, which often goes hand-in-hand with this trope: hunting is part of nature, but scavenging is less so.


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Examples:

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     Anime & Manga 
  • In Doraemon: Nobita and the Winged Braves, the main antagonistic humanoid bird is a vulture with crows as his henchman, though his right-hand man is a falcon. Although this is somewhat justified, in that said vulture has a grudge against humans due to having one of his wings shot by them.
  • Subverted in Haibane Renmei. Though her friends consider crows to be annoying pests who eat their garbage, Rakka realizes there's more to them then they initially seem.

     Comic Books 
  • Requiem Vampire Knight starts with the hero running into a bunch of zombies (the lowest order of undead, who scrounge what food they can) for who a newly-arrived vampire is a feast before being rescued by Otto.
  • The Vulture, a recurring foe of Spider-Man, is an ancient man wearing a flight suit.

     Comic Strips 
  • Calvin of Calvin and Hobbes once made a report that defended the carnivore-vs.-scavenger aspect of Tyrannosaurus rex while super-intelligent. While he intended at first to go into scientific detail ("to argue that tyrannosaurs were predators and not scavengers, we'll need to write a brief overview of carnosaur evolutionnote . Then we'll delve into skeletal structure, skull design, arm strength, potential running speed, and environmental factors") to defend his theory, his brain shrank and his bedtime came up, and he ended up going with Rule of Cool as his sole argument.

     Film - Animation 
  • Eventually subverted in Leafie, a Hen into the Wild. The one-eyed weasel is depicted both scavenging and hunting, and in fact kills both of Greenie's biological parents. She's the closest thing to the Big Bad the film has. It's later subverted when it's shown she is not any worse than the birds are. She is just trying to eat. In fact the film ends with Leafie allowing the weasel to eat her in order for her to produce milk for her newborns.
  • The Lion King:
  • The Jungle Book: Averted with the vultures. They are good-natured, somewhat lazy individuals who are introduced when they can't agree on an activity to do. They later try to stand up to Big Bad Shere Khan. The keyword being "try".

     Film - Live Action 
  • Mostly averted in the Jurassic Park films (the few that bother to mention them) with the Procompsognathids. They aren't depicted as any more "evil" than the rest of the dinosaurs, though this is in keeping with the general trend of attempting to portray the dinosaurs as animals, instead of monsters. The Compys actually manage to look fairly cute, and give a dose of Laser-Guided Karma to one rather nasty character in The Lost World.
  • Surprisingly subverted with Adrian Toomes (better known as the Vulture, even though he doesn't call himself that) in Spider-Man: Homecoming. Although he's a black market weapons dealer and literally a scavenger (of technology rather than corpses), he's portrayed in a fairly sympathetic light: he only went to the black market to make a living after Tony Stark drives him out of business, he genuinely loves his family and tries his best to provide for them, he avoids unnecessary bloodshed and he has a sense of honor that prevents him from revealing Spider-Man's identity at the end of the movie.

     Literature 
  • The Jungle Book: While Shere Khan the tiger is the main villain, Tabaqui the jackal is shown as his lackey, reporting to him in the hopes of eating his leftovers and avoiding fights.
  • In The Island of Doctor Moreau, the nastiest of the Beast Folk was created from a hyena and a pig, both animals that will scavenge.
  • In Steven Brust's Dragaera, House Jhereg is named for a species of scavenging venomous reptile, and is the House associated with criminals. Subverted by Loiosh, an actual jhereg who can be quite courageous when acting on behalf of Vlad, who raised Loiosh as his companion and familiar.
  • In the Earth's Children series Ayla has a strong aversion to hyenas, ever since a hyena grabbed a baby during a mammoth hunt. She sees hyenas as scum and will never allow a hyena around. She is otherwise a Friend to All Living Things (even those she kills for food).
  • The rats in The Wind in the Willows are treated this way: although they are also a product of the author's class-based mistrust of the English working classes, lazy, idle, prone to theft rather than hard labour, ill-educated and vicious to their social betters. (And, unlike the more selective middle-class house-owning middle class voles, moles and badgers, breed uncontrollably). TWITW is a pretty reactionary text, written at a time when the English bourgeousie was frightened of unrest, labour agitation and socialism among the lower orders, of the proletariat rising up against the hard-working middle classes. (It is no accident the heroes are all members of the stout English yeomanry).
  • Averted in the children's book Pinduli, which is one of the few sympathetic depictions of hyenas. The protagonist is a young hyena who gets teased by other animals because of her looks. The book also lists various facts about hyenas at the end. This book was written by the author of a number of other books about unpopular animals, including Stellaluna (about a bat), Virdi (about a snake), and Crickwing (about a cockroach).
  • Completely averted in Jurassic Park and The Lost World (1995). The Compys are observed by the park staff to be a vital component of keeping the island running, as apatosaur poop no longer decays normally, but Compy poop does, and Compys eat apatosaur poop. And in their own way, when things start going awry, they're just as scary and dangerous as the T-Rex or the raptors.
  • Zig-zagged in Warren the 13th with the three evil witches and their spirit animal forms. One of the witches, Isosceles, turns into a vulture, but her sisters, Scalene and Annaconda, turn into a wolf and a snail, respectively. Also, Isosceles goes through a Heel–Face Revolving Door. She is horrified when Scalene is imprisoned and Annaconda doesn't care. and she flies away. She later pulls a Big Damn Heroes moment, flying Warren back to the hotel, only to run away rather than help the heroes.
  • Erin Hunter works usually present scavenging as demeaning, especially if the animals scavenge from humans (thoubh many of the animals are actually scavengers in real life):
    • In Survivor Dogs, very few of the dogs are okay with scavenging off of longpaw trash or eating dog food after becoming Free Dogs. Alpha, a wolf-dog raised amongst wolves, outright refuses to.
    • Lusa is seen as less of a bear for trying to eat flatface food in Seeker Bears. Ujurak and Toklo consider it unnatural.
    • "Crowfood" is the term that characters in Warrior Cats use to refer to rotting food.
    • Averted in Bravelands. Unlike in previous Erin Hunter books, scavenging is noted to be a natural and even vital part of life for animals. Scavengers, vultures in particular, are considered borderline sacred. This doesn't mean all scavengers are noble, however. The Heinous Hyena trope is still in use.
  • Subverted in the Tortall Universe, where the Stormwings are scavengers, and who are understandably not well liked, even among heroic characters like Daine. When we get to know them, however, it turns out that they're actually surprisingly likeable, and Daine comes around on them. As they put it, they can't exactly help that they were literally created as obligate corpse-eaters.

     Live Action TV 
  • Walking with Dinosaurs: The series, of all things, has a tendency to do the "evil scavenger" trope; while the predatory animals do have a more ominous mood to their presence, they're still depicted in a way that makes them at least somewhat admirable and interesting creatures. The same cannot be said about Coelophysis (opportunistic predator from "New Blood"), Eustreptospondylus (the token land-lubber in "Cruel Sea"), young Ornithocheirus (scavenges the dead protagonist in "Giant of the Skies"—an interesting case, since said protagonist is the same species) or Didelphodon (an annoying, hyena-like mammal from "Death of a Dynasty"), all of which are depicted in a rather negative, or at least macabre light.
  • Its spinoff, Walking with Beasts, is also guilty of this.
    • The "Sabre Tooth" episode paints the terror birds as carrion-eaters (their actual diets were made almost entirely of live prey) to make the sabre-tooth cats more likeable. This is not only biased but also completely incorrect, as terror birds are very poor scavengers and superb predator. They are shown killing their own prey at least once, though.
    • Walking With Beasts also has the Entelodon, which is portrayed in extremely negative light as a hog from Hell and The Bully of the oligocene period.
  • Averted in Babylon 5. While the Pak'ma'ra come in for some Fantastic Racism (in part because they smell bad from eating carrion), they're no more inherently good or evil than any other species, and join the Army of Light in the later seasons.

     Tabletop Games 
  • Scavengers (also known as scavvies) are among the lowest social classes in hive cities in Warhammer 40,000, and treated as such, though the RPGs that feature them tend to be seen as The Scrounger.

     Video Games 
  • Out of the various Beast Man species that populate the WarCraft universe, the gnoll (humanoid hyenas) are one of the least noble ones.
  • Spyke, the literal Street Urchin from Splatoon isn't exactly evil, but he's a Chaotic Neutral, shady thief. He can steal any item you want for you, but his prices are high.
  • Neckys, the vultures, from the Donkey Kong Country series are villainous enemies.
  • It is almost guaranteed Pokémon based off of Real Life scavengers are Dark-typed. At this moment we have the hyenas Poochyena and Mightyena (pure Dark-type), the vultures Vullaby and Mandibuzz (Dark/Flying), the crows Murkrow and Hunchcrow, the weasels Sneasel and Weavile (Dark/Ice), and the rats Alolan Rattata and Raticate (Dark/Normal). The weasel-like Buizel and Floatzel subvert this for being pure Water type, rather than a Dark-type like Sneasel and Weavile above. On the other hand, many other Pokemon that look like Real Life predators don't always fall in this type. For example, the lions Litleo and Pyroar are dual type Fire/Normal Pokemon, whereas the Shinx evolutionary line, regardless of its black fur, is Electric-typed. The Carvanha and Sandile lines are Dark-type predators, though. Also to note that none of the aforementioned Pokémon are actually said to be scavengers in-universe.

     Web Comics 
  • In Freefall Sam's species are scavengers, and consider kleptomania a virtue. He's also afraid of Florence, an uplifted red wolf who's a stickler for the rules, even though she's genetically programmed to be subordinate to her employer, whom he happens to be.

     Western Animation 
  • The Lion Guard:
    • Zigzagged. Most of the characters are either carnivores or omnivores. The pilot however portrays scavengers as abhorrent, despite the fact real life lions will readily scavenge too if given the chance. Vultures and hyenas (who do apparently hunt in the series as well) are the villains in the pilot, and the latter are not even considered scavengers in real life anymore than lions are. It's true hyenas will scavenge, but they hunt most of what they eat. This fact is later somewhat shown in the series itself, where a hyena named Jasiri mentions that hyenas serve as scavengers in the Circle of Life and tells Kion that not all hyenas are bad (though she is still one of only "good hyenas" in the franchise).
    • There is an entire Villain Song about how jackals pretend to be nice and steal everything. This is presented as a character trait of the species.
    Our kind is born a bit smarter than other creatures you might know.
    And though we seem quite pleasant, our niceness is just a show.
    We've learned how to beat the system; everyone does our work for us.
    But before we can take advantage first we have to win their trust.
  • In Gargoyles, the two most depraved members of the animal-themed mercenary group The Pack are named Hyena and Jackal (according to Word of God they're a psychopath and a sociopath, respectively).
  • One of Woody Woodpecker's biggest enemies is Buzz Buzzard, a sleazy Con Man with a gangster-like Joisey accent and red eyes.
  • Buck the vulture and Harchi the hyena from Oscar's Oasis are part of a villainous trio that tries to eat Oscar.
  • A weird example in Dink, the Little Dinosaur — among the enemies the group faced was a generic, predatory type of pterosaur referred to in-universe as "Scavengers". However, they're never shown scavenging, instead actively hunting the protagonists, sometimes persistently.
  • Igor from Count Duckula is a vulture who has a love for anything dark and sinister, and is constantly trying to get his master to do evil again with no success.
  • One episode of Birdz has a creepy-looking vulture whom Eddie suspects is an escaped criminal from a novel he read. Subverted in that he turns out to be a decent guy.

     Real Life 
  • This was the reason Benjamin Franklin privately wished that the wild turkey had been picked as the national animal of the United States. He considered the bald eagle, as a frequent scavenger, to be "a bird of bad moral character" who "does not get his living honestly" and is a "rank coward."
  • Inverted with real life black vultures. They are one of the few animals that actually mate for life and may even attack other vultures they catch being unfaithful.

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