Wednesday, March 6, 2019

Fisi Fitness -- we workout.

So many of my friends and family from home ask what we do in our spare time out here in the Mara. Of course, we read lots of books and watch the occasional movie after evening obs. Sometimes we treat ourselves to a coffee break at the lodge during the day and surround ourselves with tourists to feign being "close to reality” for an hour or so. However, the main way we spend free time during the day is by engaging in some good ol’ fisi fitness.

Jess and I are the local health and fitness experts out here. Now, that’s not to say that our lifestyles are exactly the most healthy, but we read up and discuss a healthy lifestyle enough that I’m certain it must be rubbing off (mental 6-packs for sure).

Jess: Near dead from exhaustion.
Now, that’s not to say we don’t try our best. Our lifestyles out here are pretty sedentary — makes sense when you can’t go for a walk or hike for fear of running into an elephant/buffalo/hippo/lion/you name it — and we are literally professional sitters. We sit for obs, we sit to eat, we sit to type up our notes---we sit. We also eat VERY well courtesy of the best chefs in the world: Philimon, Moses, and Stephen. Thus, we sit, we eat, we do hyena related activities while sitting--you get it. 0 complaints from all except my muscle mass, but hey, a tiny price to pay to live in this environment.

So, fisi fitness. Our saving grace. That one hour chunk of the day where we kick it into gear enough to exhaust us completely. Not so hard, especially because we workout around 1 pm — the hottest portion of the day.

Jess and I fashioned a .33 mile "loop" (really it’s just 0.165 one way and then 0.165 back on the other side of the path). Provided it has not rained, we run somewhere between 1-4 miles each day.

Apparently we aren't the only ones running on our track!

We came up with a schedule. We hit a leg day, arm day, ab day, and butt day. After running a couple miles, we might do circuits we made up or follow along a fitness video from YouTube. Once a week we do Yoga to stretch it all out...and our favorite, dance cardio. Now, dance cardio was Jess’s idea, not mine, and is easily one of the most embarrassing things I’ve ever done (we hide while we do this). I refuse to put a video on the web to spare myself from public humiliation — but let’s just say my moves are certainly not on fleek.

Working out and moving like this keeps us sane out here and I’m so grateful for the best workout buddy, Jess. It’s not so bad running this little loop with the most beautiful view of the Mara in the backdrop or doing circuits while the birds sing above your heads! Living out here has certainly showed me that if I can workout in 90 degree heat on a tiny running loop, I’ll never have an excuse to not exercise ever again (you hear that Erin?).
Running views!

Thursday, February 28, 2019

The End of a Year

Well everyone, the end of my year has come. It's been such an amazing time at the Mara Hyena Project, and the Maasai Mara has been a beautiful place to work this year.

It's going to be so strange to go home, as I've heard from every other research assistant who has left the field. I'll have to learn to drive on the right side of the road again! And it'll certainly be odd to not have bats and birds chattering and squawking outside my tent all night. I've heard many times that people have difficulty adjusting to life at home after being in the field all year, so I'll have to find out for myself what I struggle with. What I'm really not looking forward to is Michigan in March, I haven't felt a temperature below 50 degrees Fahrenheit all year!

As far as the best parts of the year go, it was definitely the people. Everyone in camp was just wonderful to work and live with. You absolutely become a family when you are out here, and I've made friendships that will last a lifetime. It was very tough to leave them, but it just means I'll have to come back though!

For your viewing pleasure, here are some of my favorite pictures from this year. I hope you enjoy them, and asante sana!
Beautiful sunset over Young Simba Tree
Little UANO atop his weary mother
Lion and lioness shortly after mating
NANO being her best self 
A very relaxed leopard chilling in the grass

Wednesday, February 6, 2019

New RA in Talek camp!

Hello everyone! My name is Marie and I’m a new RA in Talek camp. I’m 23, I’m French and like everybody else here, I love hyenas.

My interest for hyenas started when I volunteered for 3 months with the Brown Hyena Research Project in Namibia, in 2017. During this time, my field work consisted of servicing and downloading photos from camera traps. I would then analyze them in the office. Brown hyenas are very interesting animals. In Namibia they live on the coast and in a desert and dry environment, and they mainly feed on seal pups. I really enjoyed my time there and to have the opportunity to see them, understand how they live and also to be part of the darting team when they were fitted with GPS collars.

I enjoyed Namibia so much that I decided to go back there in 2018 during 6 months to do my MSc thesis on a small spotted hyena clan adapted to this desert environment, in the Namib Naukluft National Park. Because of the drought in the area, a conflict emerged between the hyenas and a population of feral horses, and hyenas were diversionary fed by people with the aim to reduce the predation pressure on the horses. The objective of my study was to determine the impacts of this diversionary feeding on the spotted hyena population and movements. To get data, I also mainly worked with camera traps as these spotted hyenas were only nocturnal and very elusive.

Being here in the Mara now is so different from my last experience in Namibia. First, the climate is very different as it rains a lot and everything is green. Also, I am amazed by the number of both herbivores and carnivores in the Park. In just a week I saw lions, leopards, cheetahs (even baby cheetahs!), serval and hyenas of course. I even had the opportunity to see a lion-hyena interaction and a hyena taking down a young topi. There is so much to see and we never know what we are going to observe when we go on obs.

Life at camp is also great, the tents are comfortable, we have great food and a hot shower. I love it here and I’m so excited for this year!

Wednesday, January 30, 2019

Vervet Friends

There’s too much primate hate in Fisi camp. It’s true. Nearly every research assistant and member of the camp staff has a vendetta against primates. And yes, primates can be notorious pests. They routinely knock over our trash cans looking for free scraps, sending trash in every direction, and can wreak havoc on kitchen and food storage tents if left unattended. But most of these annoying acts are carried out by the local olive baboon troop. We think it’s due to their constant interaction with humans, but the Talek camp baboon troop is ridiculously bold and persistent and will not stop at anything until they get their hands on our Nairobi trash. So maybe there, a little bit of resentment is reserved. However, this resentment almost always spills over and ends up unrightfully (in my opinion) including the more even-tempered, curious, and frankly – cuter, distant relative of the baboon; the vervet monkey.

Female members of Talek camp's local baboon troop (top 2). Our lab tent trash can after Jasiri, one of the large males in the Talek camp troop, had managed to get his hands on it (bottom photo).  

 Talek camp is frequented regularly by vervets. They announce their arrival by racing across the top of the lab tent then curiously peering upside down over the edge of it at us as we work. After a clumsy tight-rope walk across the line that ties the tent to the nearest tree, the vervets are more than content to sit and watch us work for what can end up being hours. Sometimes the troop will split, and you can find some of them causing trouble at the kitchen tent by playing with plates and silverware or inspecting the trash for any fresh fruit scraps. But, unlike the baboons, vervet monkeys listen to you – most of the time – and after one well delivered lecture, will leave the plates and silverware alone.

While the baboons are omnipresent, the vervets come and go, sometimes leaving camp for months at a time before returning. Which to me, makes their reappearances so special. It’s always nice to wander through camp and see their tails drifting through the tree tops or to turn the corner and see a baby learning the ways of the world as he explores away from the safety of mother for the first time. For many people, their favorite think about camp life is being truly immersed in nature 24/7. And while it took me nearly 8 months to figure out what my favorite thing about this experience was, I think I have to agree with everyone else. Being totally immersed in nature, and living in a place where you can wake up, look through your tent window, and see a troop of vervet monkeys walk single file past you in the early morning light is truly wonderful.  

Wednesday, January 16, 2019

Triumphant Return Or Not...

Hi Folks!

I’m Maggie, and I am back in the Mara! I am one of Dr. Kay Holekamp's many grad students. I was in the Mara last year from March through August. That year was one of the rainiest years in quite a while. The rains started in late February and went through March, April, May and into June. Usually the rains go from mid-March to late May.

I arrived in the Mara on Sunday. The Mara was bone dry. It had not rained in weeks. And guess what?!?! Last night we got a whopping 30ml, and then this afternoon we got nearly 40ml!!! We are now stuck in camp. Fingers crossed that this rain stops, and we can get out to see our hyenas!

As I am posting this, it is back to raining... We are probably past 50ml for the night... At least, we have time to catch up sleep and chores around camp!

Sunday, December 30, 2018

An insider's look on IDing hyenas: Do you see what I see?

“Now that’s a beautiful shrimp”
TOPH: With her "beautiful" shrimp.

“There's straight line!
KENY! Who appears to have a straight line of dots across his side.
Of course a huge part of our job is identifying the hyenas based on their spot patterns. When I first came out to the field, all hyenas looked exactly the same. I had no idea how I would possibly be able to identify individuals. Now, when I see hyenas, I'm amazed by not only how their spots differ, but also how even faces, colors, and shapes are unique -- and personalities of course! Though, lucky for us, its spots never change -- from birth to death a hyena's spot pattern is it's finger print...and our key to success.

Some hyenas, like Shooter, have multiple unique patterns.

Shooter has a bean on his left side! 
And a beautiful paw print on his right!

Usually we agree on what we see, but often we totally disagree. Take Toothless for example!
On Toothless, Jess (pink) uses a "squiggle language" to ID her, while I (blue) always see a smiley face. Jess doesn't even notice this "face" I see and I would have never noticed her "language".

ANA's heart (fitting with her warm personality)

A batman logo on little NIZA 

A bottle on OMHA

A question mark on QEST!

Making the dots into shapes helps me tremendously for IDing, while simultaneously making obs so much fun. On hyenas I'll often see animal patterns -- like a crab on CHOW -- or shapes -- like a house on LOBI. Every time I see a hyena I'm searching it for something weird and unique to help me remember it for the next time. With our cub boom going on now...and spots beginning to form, it's been great fun trying to find cool patterns on our new young NIZA (batman logo) above.

So....what do you see?

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