Monday, April 12, 2010

Department of Missing Persons (crocuta division)

Hi. Andy Gersick here again. Sorry I have yet to properly introduce myself, and I promise to do so asap. But for now I want to start a little semi-regular feature I've been thinking of called...(drumroll please)..."unID of the Week."

Not sure if it'll actually be weekly, but we can dream. For “unID of the Week” I’ll be posting photos of hyenas we run into who defy our best efforts at identification. I know there’s not a whole lot that most readers can do to figure out who those hyenas are – you all don’t have a stack of dusty ID notebooks to page through like we do. So I don’t plan to take up a ton of blog real estate with “unID of the Week” postings. But I hope it’s at least a little interesting to see one of our ongoing puzzles. And I hope that old hyena-watchers and Talek-side researchers will take a look and let us know if any spots ring a bell.

Here on the Serena side we still see a fair number of hyenas that we don't know. This is partially because we're still learning who's who in our clans. Hyenas live in “fission-fusion” groups, which means that even though clans have a coherent identity, clan members don’t all hang out together and may not even see each other for long stretches of time. Hence fission (splitting) and fusion (coming together). But North clan seems to have more than its share of odd hyenas that show up one day, flash some great spots, and then disappear. I have my own pet theory about why this is: I think that some of our unIDs come from across the river, and go back there before we can get used to them. North-clan Territory borders the Mara River to the East, and we know that hyenas do cross the river sometimes. North clan also lost a whole swathe of high-ranking animals last year. The official line is that the lost hyenas – including Elf, the alpha female, and a number of the highest-ranked animals in North clan – died. But I'm more into JFK/Elvis-type explanations for the missing animals. I think they’re still alive. So if they’re alive, where did they go? Again, my theory is that they crossed the river. Sometime in 2009 the top third of North Clan up and disappears. Meanwhile, unfamiliar animals seem to pop up regularly in North territory. The other North hyenas know these animals, but we don’t. So what if North Clan split up, or just spread out, with most of the group staying here on our side of the river and a significant satellite group making their home base on the other side? That would explain the lost hyenas, the random unIDs… it’s perfect.

SO: unID of the Week. Again, if you’re an old hyena watcher or a Talek-side researcher, watch this space for pictures that might ring a bell. If you’re an at-home reader, I hope this feature will ultimately provide documentation for the unraveling of a mystery in real time. Maybe it’ll turn out that hyenas who make only cameo appearances over here are regulars on the other side of the river. Maybe one day, a Talek-side researcher will see a picture of Elf on the blog and say, “Oh her? I ran into her on the border of Prozac-clan territory yesterday.”

Today, we have “unID with Emma, Krest, Arrow and Golgotha near Mgoro Lugga.” This hyena was wandering around with a bunch of our clan regulars. The spots are distinctive, the other hyenas acted like this was a familiar clan-mate, but we can’t find a match in any of our ID books.



masai mara safari said...

i actually have a lot of respect for these animals you call hyenas. They are built to survive and thrive on the savannah plains.

adw said...

Hey Andy,

Did you figure out this unID yet?

The arch at the top of the right front leg and the circle with the dot in just under that it look very familiar. I don't remember who this individual is, but I've seen those spots on somebody.


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