Tuesday, February 17, 2009

Wait your turn

Pecking orders exist in many aspects of life. Never is this clearer than when a large animal is killed in the Mara. While waiting at the Keekorok airstrip for a flight to take a friend back to Nairobi, a ranger in the Mara told me there were hyenas feeding on a giraffe that had been killed by lions a day or two earlier.

When I arrived on the scene I found about 10 hyenas coming and going from the carcass. At least 50 vultures were hanging around patiently, and at times impatiently, waiting for their chance to stick out their neck and grab a chunk of the recently departed. The hyenas at the scene were not from a clan that we study, but it was clear which hyenas were dominant. Despite the fact there were probably hundreds of kilograms of meat and bones remaining, some of the hyenas were intent on not letting their fellow hyenas get a bite or meat, or even snap off a bone. This is one of the reasons it is important for hyenas to be able to eat large amounts very quickly, you don't know who is going to chase you away before you are full.

When a low ranking hyena is attacked or chased by higher ranking hyena, the lower ranking hyenas will many times displace the aggression onto the nearby vultures. In our regular hyena observations we call this scapegoating.

Whenever I see a hyena, whether it is on TV or standing next to my car, I always think, "Do I recognize this hyena?" I didn't immediately recognize any, but I did find one hyena with an ear tag. I was unable to read the ear tag, but I am hoping a former resident of Fisi Camp may recognize the hyena picture here.

After about 20 minutes of the semi-relaxed feeding scene, a male lion came trotting in and scattered the hyenas and vultures. This male was very fat and had probably been feeding on this carcass for the past day or two. Yet, he was unwilling to let anyone else near the carcass while he stuffed the last open pocket in his vast stomach. Truly a glutton. At one point he even picked up the entire carcass and dragged it about a meter. I am not sure if this was to reinforce to all present that he was at the top of the pecking order or if he may have been showing off, just because he could. Either way, I was impressed.

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