Wednesday, May 19, 2010

Alumnus' Research on Sexual Deception in USA Today

Wiline Pangle is an alumnus of the Holekamp Lab where she received her PhD in 2008. While living in Kenya, she collaborated on a topi sexual deception study published in the July issue of The American Naturalist journal and featured in an article this week in USA Today.

Wednesday, May 12, 2010

What Are Your Favorite Hyena Blog Stories?

The Notes From Kenya blog is about to hit several milestones: two years of blogging and 200 posts. This is a perfect time to reflect on the success and gather some feedback (and have a friendly little competition among bloggers past and present).

There have been some remarkable stories shared here and we'd like your input as to which ones indeed are the best. Yes, we can look at the Google Analytics data and see that we've had 44,000 visits from people in 154 countries. That same data shows Kay's Birth Through A Soda Straw post was the most popular. This was followed closely by Kate's Mythbusters and Thrill of the Hunt and then Kay's very first post Lion-Hyena Fight.

Yet, as with many things, the numbers don't always give the entire story. Other media coverage, press releases, search engine optimization and external forces sometimes skew these numbers. For example, Kate's Crazy Things Guys Do For Girls was a big hit on Facebook; Kenna's Necropsies grossed many people out; Andy's Jingle Bells offered a twist on the holiday travel stories; and Leslie's Running in Kenya brought some visitors to the blog who were expecting personal fitness related stories.  

So to mark the two year anniversary of the blog, we'd like to determine the "Fan Favorite" hyena blog post. To phrase this another way, we are going to conduct a poll.

This is where we need your help. Nominate your favorite blog post(s) using the comment space below. We'll collect the nominations and do a poll among the most popular stories. What stories are the most memorable? What stories have you enjoyed the most or passed along to friends? The comment thread is open, so please nominate as many as you like. (And yes, we do expect hyena blogging alumni to enlist their family and friends to vote for their own pieces).

Then we'll compile the nominations and put a poll up in a couple weeks. The blog post with the most votes will win. The writer of the Fan Favorite post will receive bragging rights and a pat on the back from Kay (unless the post is by Kay in which case she'll need some acknowledgement from the folks at Fisi Camp).

If you need help finding a post, use the search box or keywords listed on the left. There are plenty of great stories from the bloggers, so have at it friends and let us know what you like the best. We'd love to hear from all of our readers, so please post your comments. Thank you!

Monday, May 10, 2010

Hyena Research on Video

The video team from MSU spent last week with Professor Holekamp and her students in the Mara. They followed the researchers and gathered video for an upcoming television show. Here are some clips from their visit.

The first video covers the Hyena Puzzle Box:

This second video is on darting the hyenas:

We'll keep you posted on when the episode of "MSU Today" will air on the Big Ten Network, WKAR and on the web. For a related story, here is Jim Peck's blog post where he writes about his arrival at Fisi Camp.

Sunday, May 9, 2010

Sacking Out: The Strategy

A recent blog reader asked us what sacking out is. I really should have known to explain this in my blogs because "sacked out" was one of those terms that everyone used when I got here that left me clueless. It took me a few days of really paying attention to know what "sacking out" was referring to.

Sacking out is, most simply, when a hyena is laying down. In our data collection and notes we use this term to describe any hyena that is laying down in a variety of positions.

A sacked out hyena can be either a curse or a blessing. At times, it can be a relief to come upon a sacked out hyena. This is partly because it is easy to record in the notes and partly because it allows you plenty of time to ID the hyena without it wandering into bushes or tall grass or a lugga. Other times, a sacked out hyena is the cause of much frustration and teeth gnashing. Some hyenas love to sack out in a way that gives you no hope of identifying the hyena by spots.

Here are a few hyena sacking out strategies:

The Sack Out

The "Yes I know it looks like I'm enjoying this too much for it to just be nursing" Sack Out

(Mom: Koko, Cub: Sheffield)

The "One paw under, one paw back" Sack Out

The "We LOVE the road!" Sack Out

The "MMMMMMmmmm Aaaaahhhhh Roooooaaaaaad, soooo niiiiiice" Sack Out

The "Yeah, I'm in the road again, whatcha gonna do about it?" Sack Out

The "Good babysitter" Sack Out

The "Not-so-good babysitter" Sack Out

(Mom: Artemis)

The "Hiding in the den hole" Sack Out


The "Just Say 'No!'" Sack Out

(Human: Kenna, Hyena: Obama)

The "Hide in the bushes from the hyena researchers" Sack Out

The "Not quite sure I want a bath right now, Barcelona" Sack Out

The "Sleeping on the job, but it's ok because I'm a new mom" Sack Out

(Mom: Lucky Luciano, Cub: Lavington)

The "Bloody Comfy" Sack Out


The "Why yes, as a matter of fact I am sacked out in a hole. And yes, I am stuck here" Sack Out


The "Grass pillow" Sack Out

The "What do you mean you can't identify me by my belly shape? What kind of hyena researcher are you?!" Sack Out

The "I am such a good mom, anyone can chew or stand on me, I don't care" Sack Out

(Mom: Potter)

The "I'm too lazy to get up for this greet" Sack Out

The "Hyenas love ditches" Sack Out

The "No really, we LOVE ditches" Sack Out

The "Having three cubs is exhausting" Sack Out


The "I have my eye on you" Sack Out

The "In my next life, I want to be a rock" Sack Out

The "Is the Mara ugly or what?!" Sack Out

Thursday, May 6, 2010

Hello from a new hyena blogger

Hey there hyena-fans! This is Camille Yabut, the current research assistant at Serena Camp in the west side of the Mara. I was told that, before we start our lengthy and hopefully enjoyable relationship, I should start off by introducing myself to all you lovely people. So, here we go, my obligatory intro post, which I'll try to trim down to the basics so that we can get into the stuff that's actually interesting.

I graduated from University of California, Davis in 2007 with a B.S. in Wildlife, Fish and Conservation Biology, emphasis on Wildlife Biology. Much to my dismay, I ended up working at a corporate law firm for the two and a half years following graduation, rather than actually using the degree I'd worked so hard on. Finally (and hopefully before I'd completely sold my soul), last year I decided that I'd had enough and it was time to go back to doing what I loved, so I started looking into a) grad school, or b) a fieldwork job. In the midst of all of this, I got the job posting for the RA position with the MSU Hyena Project through the UCD WFCB alumni listserve. I was so excited to hear about an opportunity like this that I leapt to apply (ok, fine, so I more or less attacked the posting, sunk my teeth in and refused to let go... I occasionally wonder if I got the job just through sheer persistence).

So, lucky for me, Kay decided to give me a chance and here I am. I arrived in Kenya in early February, spent a few days tearing around Nairobi, and then as luck would have it, arrived for the first time in the Mara on my birthday (is that an awesome birthday gift or what?). I've been here for about 3 months now and I'm still loving it just as much as I did when I first got here.

Anyway, I've been lagging a little on the blogging (yeesh, a 3-month backlog of stories to share) but I'll try to actually start getting a post in here and there. Can't let Kenna and Andy have all the fun!

That should cover it, right? I promise the next time you hear from me, hyenas will actually feature. Take care 'til then!

Arachnologist needed!

I recently returned to the Mara after being back in the states and quickly settled into my new tent. However, in the first couple of days I had to evict some of the small guests that had been calling my tent their home. This one in particular caused me to lose a little sleep. I have a guess at what type of spider this may be, but I welcome the opinion of someone the knows a bit more about spiders.

Monday, May 3, 2010

Shoat disaster

In our research camp in the eastern Mara we have two night watchmen, or “askaris” in Kiswahili. Their names are Stephen and Lusingo, and they both hail from manyattas across the river from our camp. Last night disaster struck at Stephen’s manyatta, resulting in what can only be described as a catastrophic loss of livestock. Sometime between midnight and 1 am, a leopard climbed over the 8-foot wall of one of the livestock corral’s in Stephen's manyatta, grabbed a goat, and fled back over the wall. (This morning Stephen found the leopard asleep on a high tree-branch beside the river, with Stephen's goat --now dead, of course-- tucked into a fork in the tree.) Perhaps detecting the scent of blood from the leopard attack, a spotted hyena then approached Stephen’s manyatta, and forced its way into the same livestock corral. The terrified sheep and goats (“shoats”) stampeded and burst out of the corral through a weakly closed gate, and dispersed into the night on the open plain, where they were promptly set upon by a large group of hyenas. Stephen, who was at work guarding our camp at the time, received a call on his cell phone at 1 am telling him the hyenas were mowing down his shoats, so he rushed home. None of the hyena researchers in camp were aware then of what had happened, but this morning Stephen found us and led us to his manyatt, where the scene can only be described as carnage: dead and damaged shoats all over the place, and the surviving shoats huddled together, still apparently terrified. Women and men were trying to salvage what meat they could from the carcasses of the dead ones, and cleaning what was left of the skins. Stephen had tallied the losses, which totaled 50 shoats, each valued at roughly 3000 Kenya shillings ($45.00 US). We have no funds for any sort of compensation scheme here, so all we could do today was to buy several kilos of shoat meat at filet mignon prices to help Stephen recoup some of his losses. This is one of those situations where, despite the fact that the killer hyenas were not among the ones we study, nor did we have anything to do with this awful event, the hyena researchers feel absolutely terrible for Stephen and his family, as this represents a huge financial loss. We will now do whatever we can to help them cope with this disaster, including strengthening their corrals to keep out marauding predators in the future.

Sunday, May 2, 2010

Fruit bats

I recently arrived back in Kenya, and after running some inevitable errands in Nairobi, finally made it to the Mara. It is green and beautiful here right now, as we are still in the season known as "the long rains." I have lived in a tent in our bush camp for years on end, and never been bothered by the fruit bats.......until now. Over the years, virtually all my students and guests have complained at breakfast about fruit bat noises, but this has never before been an issue for me. In fact, their complaints have always seemed amusing to me. This year, however, the tables have turned. For some reason, the shrill pinging vocalizations of the epauletted fruit bats we have in camp seem extraordinarily loud to me. As with my students and visitors, these bat calls suddenly sound to me like an alarm clock going off, and they have currently the power to bring me up out of even a deep sleep. Hopefully I'll eventually readjust to these beeps, and be able once again to sleep through them, only tuning in as necessary to the actual alarm clock beside my bed. But thus far I've had to leave my tent twice in the middle of the night to shoo the bats away who were (literally) hanging out over my tent engaged in very loud conversations. The good news is that the many insectivorous bats we also have in camp are undoubtedly making an even greater racket as they chase moths throughout the night, but happily they are all talking on very high-frequency channels I don't pick up at all.

Michigan State University | College of Natural Science