Saturday, November 1, 2008

Tragedy strikes

NOTE: The sentiment among the bloggers at FisiCamp is that we really want to give you an accurate depiction of what happens out here, and that means writing about both the highs and the lows that we experience. While I’ve tried to spare you most of the gory details, just be advised that this entry does illustrate the harsh realities of life out here. It redeems itself somewhat at the end, I promise…

The hardest part about studying animals occurs when, all of a sudden, you’re reminded that they aren’t invincible. Despite the fact that hyenas are amazingly feisty and resilient animals, they live difficult lives.

When we spotted Geezer, we immediately knew something was wrong. He was trying to walk into a shallow water hole, but he could barely move. He was moving slowly and laboriously, and it took a long time for him to reach the edge of the pool. As he bent down to drink, blood ran down his neck from several puncture wounds, and the water around him turned red. Geezer drank laboriously for several minutes, which wasn’t a good sign - healthy hyenas don’t tend to drink much.

From the size and shape of the punctures on his neck, as well as other wounds on his back and hindquarters, we could tell that the poor guy had been attacked by lions. He’s from the Happy Zebra Clan, whose den was visited by lions not long ago. Recently, we’ve repeatedly seen a group of five large male lions in the heart of the clan's territory.

To make a sad story short, Geezer didn’t make it through the night.

Out here, we walk a thin line between being animal enthusiasts and scientists. As animal lovers, we inevitably grieve when a hyena dies. These hyenas become our family and our closest friends. We know their favorite hangouts, their friends and foes, and their funny quirks. We see them day after day, carrying on with their lives, and it’s impossible not to get attached.

Unfortunately, rule #1 in research is “don’t get attached,” because our jobs don’t just end when a hyena dies. We can learn invaluable information post-mortem, so we have to retrieve the body, perform a necropsy, and prepare the skull to be sent back to the US. As scientists, we have to (at least attempt to) distance ourselves from the situation; it’s a strange and difficult balancing act between emotion and obligation.

But, all is not lost. In an ironic twist of fate, the same day Geezer died, we had our first sighting of Quark, the newest cub in the Happy Zebra Clan. The coincidental timing of Geezer’s death and Quark’s birth was a perfect reminder that, while nature can be harsh, new life is just around the corner.


Will said...

It sounds very difficult to deal with. Still, thanks for carrying on this important research. If you and the other bloggers weren't willing to walk that line we might not know much of anything about these animals.

Katy said...

Poor Geezer. I know I'll miss him! I have some pretty funny photos of him to remember him by.

Unknown said...

So this story kind of reminds me of the show we watched when we were at our first NESCACs about a mountain lion, and he disappeared for a few days and the researchers thought he was dead and then he came back and I cried with relief. I haven't been able to watch one of those shows ever again, which is a guess why you are a researcher and I'm not :)

Anonymous said...

quark is ADORABLE!
I'm looking forward to seeing more pictures of him! :-)

Michigan State University | College of Natural Science