Q: Why don't buzzards, coyotes and other scavengers get food poisoning?
A: They do, but they have developed sophisticated techniques to avoid tainted food. Most bacteria that decompose carcasses are neither toxic nor pathogenic, so eating decaying food is not always harmful. Moreover, most bacteria that do cause illness are destroyed by acidic environments. The stomachs of many scavengers, including vultures, have higher acid levels than other animals' stomachs. Finally, the animals have inborn mechanisms to avoid problems. Dogs, hyenas and coyotes, for example, will eat just about anything, but at the first hint of problems, they vomit the food. Coyotes are so good at this that it is extremely difficult to poison them. Rats also are good at linking taste and illness. After one exposure to something that makes them sick, they will never eat it again.