I am the new Research Assistant (RA) in Serena Camp. My name is Heidi, although for the last 5 months I have gone by Hippo. Why Hippo? Well, 3 short weeks ago I completed a 2,100+ mile, 5-month hike on the Pacific Crest Trail (PCT) through California, Oregon and Washington. One rarely leaves the PCT without a “trail name” deemed by fellow through hikers and I was no less fortunate. I was hungry every hour of my hike (a “hungry hippo” one might say)… so “Hippo” I became.
Views of the PCT around Ashland, OR
Prior to becoming Hippo, I graduated from Chico State, CA with a degree in Environmental Science: Applied Ecology and a minor in Biology. I have also had the pleasure of working with the USGS Oakhurst on the Yosemite Toad and Mountain Yellow-legged Frog within Yosemite and Kings Canyon National Parks and Tamarisk in Moab, UT and Mesquite, NV.
Once the trail was finished, I had two weeks to pack and organize life before flying to Nairobi to meet grad students Kenna, Eli and Tracy. They wasted no time in training me in the fine art of shopping—hyena researcher style. We wheeled around cartloads full of one month’s worth of food and supplies for both camps. Our vehicle barely had the room for my baggage and goods. Six hours of driving with one quasi-breakdown later, we arrived in Talek Camp. In Talek fellow RAs, Ashley and Chase, bitter about the onslaught of rain, busied themselves with organizing ID books. Information about the hyenas saturated every discussion. Before leaving with Molly to Serena camp where I will be until October of next year, we clarified some hyena jargon. We discussed what constitutes a stand over, chase vs. lunge, snap, bite, bite-shake, head wave, greet with a lifted leg or greet without a lifted leg, point vs. look, ears back vs. ears really, really back (a topic of much debate) and much more.
Now equipped with a foundation of knowledge about hyena research and much enthusiasm to try my hand at the job, it has regretfully still been raining. Therefore, instead of driving to Serena’s hyena dens to learn their spots and behaviors, Molly and I are stuck in camp. However, there is still much to learn here at camp and of course there is always The Behavior Guide to Africa Mammals by Richard Despard Estes and Swahili phrasebooks.
In all, this hippo is happy to now wallow in the Maasai Mara National Reserve, “the Triangle”.