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A hyena and a vulture can't be up to any good.
Calvin: Were [Tyrannosaurus rex] 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.
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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?

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 who would gleefuly feast on equally rotten meals that nobody in their right mind would touch. 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, due to their preference for easy meals that are either lying dead on the ground or too weak to fight back, as well as their habit of mooching off of the hard-working predators who, in our eyes, truly "earn" their own sustenance. 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.

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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, all active predators (and even many herbivores) will scavenge if they have the chance, even though you will never see a lion, wolf or deer scavenge in fiction. After all, why should they waste energy running after their food (or digesting grass) 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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A Post-Apocalyptic Dog may also end up as this.

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, which one would think would result in scavengers being depicted as nicer, since they at least don't need to kill for food. Often related to Super-Persistent Predator and What Measure Is a Non-Cute?. Related to You Dirty Rat!, Creepy Cockroach, Messy Maggots, 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.

No relation to Disaster Scavengers, which are the (mostly human) scavengers in the post-apocalyptic worlds.


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 predator-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 

     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)note , 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 

Authors

  • Erin Hunter works usually present scavenging as demeaning, especially if the animals scavenge from humans (though 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 (garbage) in Seeker Bears. Ujurak and Toklo consider it unnatural.
    • "Crowfood" is the term that characters in Warrior Cats use to refer to rotting food. The cats refuse to scavenge no matter how hungry they are.
    • 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.

Individual works

  • Subverted in Discworld with Quoth, the Death of Rats's raven associate. Although completely open and unashamed about his love of scavenging (eyeballs especially), he's quite helpful and sympathetic, at least when he's not being a Deadpan Snarker. At the end of Hogfather, the Death of Rats locates a dead sheep for Quoth to scavenge, and it's portrayed as a touching Hogswatch gesture on the Grim Squeaker's part.
  • 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).
  • Isaac Asimov's "The Gentle Vultures": The aliens consider unbalancing the Cold War so that one side is ready to devastate the world through nuclear weapons. Then they'll come to "rescue" the survivors. However, when a human that they abduct for information castigates them and compares them to carrion-eaters, they become horrified at the idea of what they're about to do and leave Earth to its own devices.
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • 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 Janell Cannon, the author of a number of other books about unpopular animals, including Stellaluna (about a bat), Verdi (about a snake), and Crickwing (about a cockroach).
  • Bothans in Star Wars Legends are said to have evolved from scavengers. Thus, they demonstrate several traits that others find distasteful, like instinctually avoiding open conflict unless someone else strikes the first blow, and delighting in sneaky means like spying, hacking, or politics. Subverted in that plenty of Bothers are heroic, without downplaying their sneakiness one bit. Remember who gave their lives to learn the second Death Star's weakness?
    • This trope is part of what gives the Confederacy of Independent Systems their Designated Villain vibe: their primary droid fighter and bomber are respectively named for the vulture and the hyena.
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • Averted in Louise Searl's novel about lions, The Way of Kings (2021). The lions understand that scavenging helps them survive, and consider it no less noble than hunting.
  • 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).

     Live-Action TV 
  • 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.
  • Savage Kingdom:
    • Lions see hyenas this way. They're described as a "plague" due to their ferocious appetite, numbers, and perseverance.
    • The Marsh's rival pride is a small but tricky group who will do anything to survive. This is emphasised by their introduction clip showing them stealing a leopard's prey.
  • 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 epoch.
  • Similar to the Walking with Dinosaurs examples above, Valley of the T-Rex describes scavenging in decidedly unflattering terms. The entire point of the documentary is to "prove" that Tyrannosaurus rex wasn't the majestic, noble hunter of popular imagination, but an ugly, smelly scavenger. And yes, those are the literal words they use.

     Mythology and Religion 
  • The Bible describes the dogs, especially feral dogs, to be this trope, associating them with being unclean and malicious.
  • The folk tales of "black dogs", ubiquitous in the United Kingdom, can be rooted back to the dogs' scavenging behavior. Some of them are even hellhounds.
  • Even though Islam doesn't discriminate any animal, one hadith considers dogs to be unclean, somehow playing with this trope. This stereotype since has expanded from simply feral dogs, to even many domestic dogs (utility dogs are mostly exceptions). And as such, many Muslims, especially the conservative ones, don't allow dogs into their homes due to this trope.

     Tabletop Games 
  • Pathfinder: The jackal-headed cynosphinxes are the only species of sphinx to be a scavenger by preference — to the point that they even let fresh kills rot before eating them to improve their taste — and of course they're evil, treacherous and vile necromancers to the last.
  • Warhammer 40,000: Scavengers (also known as scavvies) are among the lowest social classes in hive cities and are treated as such, though the RPGs that feature them tend to be seen as The Scrounger.

     Video Games 
  • 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 hellhounds Houndour and Houndoom (Dark/Fire), the hyenas Poochyena and Mightyena (pure Dark-type), the vultures Vullaby and Mandibuzz (Dark/Flying), the crows Murkrow and Honchcrow, the weasels Sneasel and Weavile (Dark/Ice), the skunks Stunky and Skuntank (Poison/Dark), the rats Alolan Rattata and Raticate (Dark/Normal), the foxes Nickit and Thievul (pure Dark-type), and the raccoons Galarian Zigzagoon, Linoone, and Obstagoon (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 except for Mandibuzz are actually said to be scavengers in-universe.
  • Spyke, the literal Street Urchin from Splatoon isn't exactly evil, but he's a shady back-alley salesman and implied thief. He can steal any item you want for you, but his prices are high.
  • Out of the various Beast Man species that populate the Warcraft universe, the gnoll (humanoid hyenas) are one of the least noble ones.

     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.

     Web Original 
  • Zig-zagged on Serina. During the Ocean Age, there are two prominent species of scavenging birds that inhabit the seas and feed off of the scraps of the sea stewards. The sea raven plays this trope largely straight as its a greedy and belligerent creature that will aggressively steal food from other animals and may even sometimes attack the sea steward's children. The other bird, the aukvulture, is a complete subversion as despite its large size and intimidating appearance it's actually a docile and intelligent animal that patiently waits for its meals, even ostracizing the more belligerent members of their kind, the sea stewards prefer to keep them around as they keep away the smaller but highly unpleasant sea ravens.
    • Another zig-zagged example would be the sea shoggoths. They are very dangerous predators that are feared and reviled but they remain harmless as long as the sea stewards keep feeding them their garbage. Making them less dangerous when acting as scavengers.

     Western Animation 
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • 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).
  • 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.
  • Averted with The Looney Tunes Show's incarnation of Beaky Buzzard, a rescue buzzard who tries to save animals (namely Sylvester, Tweety, and Taz), only eating them if they die before he arrives. On the other hand, once he gets caught by Blacque Jacque Shellacque, he ponders if he should’ve just eaten them after all.
  • Buck the vulture and Harchi the hyena from Oscar's Oasis are part of a villainous trio that tries to eat Oscar.
  • One of Woody Woodpecker's biggest enemies is Buzz Buzzard, a sleazy Con Man with a gangster-like Joisey accent and red eyes.

     Real Life 
  • Needless to say this can have disastrous ramifications in reality if disregard for scavengers happens. India suffered a catastrophic decline in vulture populations due to a medicine used on cattle which came with the unforeseen side-effect of being lethally poisonous to any birds that consumed the carcass of a dead cow that had been treated. After a 95% decline in vulture populations, multiple disease outbreaks became prevalent because the birds that safely destroyed infected carcasses were gone.
  • This was the reason Benjamin Franklin privately wished that the wild turkey had been picked as the national animal of the United States (though he did not, as is commonly believed, voice this opinion in public). 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.
  • This trope is inherently rooted in ignorance, as the line between "scavenger" and "predator" is actually thinner than most people realize as explained on Wikipedia. The vast majority of carnivores will play either role when given the chance, as in the wild wasting any free food is a very bad survival strategy, and it is also a bad survival strategy not to hunt when given an good opportunity or when you can't find enough carrion to survive on. Species that strictly, exclusively adhere to either lifestyle are actually rare. For example, lions, wolves and eagles are active predators that hunt most of what they eat, but they will readily seek and eat any carrion they can find, and black vultures mainly scavenge, but have been known to actively hunt and kill calves, fawns, and other small animals when they can't find enough carrion.
    • There's also the element that it's almost always a better survival strategy to scavenge whenever possible because hunting usually carries a inherent risk of injury, often requires a lot of energy expenditure, and the prey usually has a chance of getting away. The only downside to scavenging is a higher chance of becoming sick from bacteria, but it appears most carnivore stomachs can handle that most of the time, or that free food is worth taking the risk.
  • There is also often an element of What Measure Is a Non-Cute? in this, in that people will forgive cute and cool animals, such as eagles and foxes, for scavenging, but demonize less liked animals for it, like coyotes and vultures.
    • To that point, domestic dogs strongly favor scavenging when feral, as humans have bred dogs to be less suitable for independent hunting than wolves are, and to readily accept already-dead meat provided to them. Yet, outside certain religions such as Judaism and Islam (see Mythology and Religion section), they don't tend to get demonized as a species for it the same way coyotes do, despite the fact that coyotes hunt more than feral dogs do, and that both are closely related canines. The only real difference here is that dogs are far more likeable than coyotes.
  • Fridge Logic rears its ugly head here too, if one presumes that lives have value: if another creature that happens to be a meat-eater can subsist without killing other creatures, but merely cleans up what's dead of other causes to sustain itself, shouldn't that be to its credit...? But no, the sheer "ick" factor of carcass-feeding tends to shout down that argument.
  • The context of "scavenger" varies wildly and depends on the objects; due to Values Dissonance, scavenging of non-animal objects such as Beeping Computers and toys is generally viewed in positive light as a hobby (and many Disaster Scavengers, real and fictional, tend to do this a lot), while scavenging of animal corpses is generally frowned upon, even if the scavenger is a human.
  • Another reason for the disdain people have for scavengers is that many tend to associate it with thievery, seeing their scavenging as simply stealing the hard-earned kill of a predator. This is generally not how this works in the wild as an animal designed more for scavenging trying to take a predator's food would likely get added to the menu, typically they just wait for the hunter to finish eating then get the leftovers. In fact, the kind of animal most likely to try to steal a predator's meal is another predator.

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