Wednesday, June 2, 2010

Yet Another Andy

I’d like to take a minute to introduce myself. My name is Andy Booms and, yes, I’m actually the third Andy to post on this blog. I just finished my first year as a Ph.D. student in the lab and I’m out for my first field season. While I’m mainly here to get a feel for the conditions and limitations with regard to conducting research out here and to familiarize myself with the hyenas and basic hyena biology, I’m also hoping to test out some methods for my eventual dissertation work on gene flow among hyena populations throughout Kenya.

I know others have posted before on their initial impressions and experiences, but I can’t help but do the same, especially since Kay’s latest post provided the perfect segue. The drive down from Nairobi was incident-free (thankfully) and full of wildlife. I saw elephants, giraffes, wildebeest, zebras, ostriches, gazelles, and many other species before I even set foot in Talek camp. That night I heard my first real hyena whoop in person. It was so cool to have large carnivores off in the distance that it didn’t seem real. I spent the next few days going on obs and adding to my species list. Everything was better than I had imagined, especially the food (and hyenas too, of course).

Then, just yesterday, I moved to Serena camp to spend some time setting up trail cameras. News of recent activity in Serena had already reached Talek before I left: there was a dead hippo in the woods just outside of camp and it was attracting lions and hyenas each night. When I arrived at Serena I was happy to find that my tent was one of the closest to all of the activity; it was probably less than 100m away from the hippo itself. It certainly smelled like it was that close. We went about our evening obs as usual and returned at night to find hyenas already in camp, some only 30-40m from my tent. Then, during dinner, the lions arrived. We couldn’t see them but we could certainly hear them. The roars were so close and so powerful that I could feel them in my chest. Things seemed a little more real then. After dinner I walked to my tent, constantly scanning with my flashlight, and managed to get there in one piece and settle down for bed. The lions continued to roar, closer still, and hyenas could be heard running through camp throughout the night. They all wanted a shot at an easy meal. At some point elephants wandered by and stumbled upon the lions, and I awoke to a loud, angry trumpeting. I could also hear hippos grunting. At that point I just hoped I wouldn’t be trampled.

Morning came and I was still alive. The lions are reportedly still nearby, resting after a long night of eating, but so far this morning I’ve only seen a jackal moving around camp. Today we’ll go about our normal business and I’m sure when we get back tonight we’ll have an encore of last night. It’s important to point out, though, that the lions, hyenas, elephants, hippos, and everything else are generally unconcerned with us. They have better things to do than lurk around each corner or stalk us as we walk to our tents. We’re just bystanders who happen to have a front row seat for now. And it’s a seat I don’t mind having. It’s just another day in Serena camp, and my fifth day in Africa.

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