Sunday, September 27, 2009

Camp's newest visitors

Our latest invasion is by a family of banded mongooses (no, the plural is not "mongeese"). Banded mongooses are small social carnivores that inhabit the Mara. To give you a reference point, they look and act a lot like meerkats—lots of vigilant behavior by standing up on their hind legs and swiveling their heads around. Check out the nasty little claws; they're particularly impressive I think.

Interestingly, mongooses are hyenas' closest relative (I think I've talked about this before, perhaps). The four species of hyena—spotted, striped, brown, and the aardwolf—are their own family (Hyaenidae), but if you back up the taxonomic chain a little to the order Carnivora, you'll see that the hyena family and the mongoose family share their most recent common ancestor. So hyenas are more closely related to mongooses than they are to cats, dogs, or bears (I mention bears because here at Fisi Camp we tend to think hyenas have "bear faces"). That being said, mongooses and hyenas split LONG ago, so they still aren't necessarily "closely" related...just closEST.

Anyway, these guys are totally cute, and make really interesting vocalizations. They are constantly squeaking and chirping at each other as they prowl around in search of food. As you'll see in one of these photos, they have recently found a constant food source in some of our more generous camp members (not me—let the record show that I don't feed wildlife in camp!).

It's quite amusing: we'll be sitting enjoying our breakfast, and all of a sudden a dozen mongooses will sprint in from every direction, run around like mad for half an hour, then equally suddenly dash off to their next appointment. The real highlight was watching one take a snail shell and try to crack it by repeatedly whacking it against one of our tent poles. I hope they stick around!

Thursday, September 3, 2009

So far, so good...

Michigan State University | College of Natural Science