Friday, October 22, 2010

Hyena mating

Last month, Camille and I were lucky enough to witness a hyena mating! This is a pretty rare experience as, normally, hyenas will seek out a secluded place and go at it privately. However, as you will see from the photos, in this instance it seems that AO (Agent Orange, female) and EUC (Euclid, male) prefer exhibitionism.

We had set out for a normal morning of obs in Happy Zebra clan, and arrived at the D (fancy abbreviation for 'den') just as the sun was rising. AO's cubs were hanging out, wandering and play romping as usual. Then we see AO; strolling by, ignoring her cubs, and leave walking (lofty science language for 'leaving the session in a walking manner'). EUC was following close behind her, but that's pretty normal for hyena males given their low ranking (males want to get close to females, but are too scared to actually approach, so they end up following them around really pathetically). What we did notice was that she was unusually tolerant of his behavior and close proximity to her. She only aggressed on him once if I remember correctly, but then continued to walk away, not minding that he was following close behind.

Since nothing too exciting was happening at the D, we decided to follow AO and EUC. They continued walking in this manner for about 25 minutes, and we continued following them. The only reason we continued was because EUC briefly mounted AO a couple times, so we were hoping to eventually see the real thing.  Then they both decided to poop. 'Cool, more samples!' I think. Camille gets out of the car to find and collect the poop and I keep an eye on the hyenas. After a couple minutes of unsuccessful poop-searching, I see through my binos that EUC has yet again mounted AO, but this time he's STAYING up! "Camille!! We have to go now!" I shout. "Wait, I think I can find it, hold on a sec" she answers. "No, no, you don't understand. They're really doing it! They're mating, forget the poop!" I say. I'm not sure if those were our actual words, but they are true to the effect of our exchange before we raced off in anticipation of some exciting action.

We get there and yippee, they're still in the "thrust" of the action, so to speak. In the style of the true professionals that we are, we positioned ourselves in the best possible angle, took photos, recorded videos (the project requires us to!), and giggled our behinds off. It lasted about 6 minutes. Here are just a few of the hundred photos that we took (click on them to see full-size) --
It's blurry, but EUC following AO as they were leaving the D.
The scene as we arrived. Clearly they weren't concerned about topi or zebra voyeurism.
Had to give you a close-up.
Who says you can't multitask? They're even alert to their surroundings while in the act.
All done. EUC spent some time sniffing in the area he had been standing.
Interestingly enough, afterward, they continued walking in the same direction together. EUC would lope a bit ahead, but then turn around and wait for slow-walking AO to catch up. We followed them doing this for a while but then had to leave to do prey transects. Every once in a while, EUC would chase some zebra or wildebeest but then quickly give up. I like to think that after we left, EUC took down a yummy zebra for AO in thanks for her kindness and willingness to give him the best 6 minutes of his life.

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