Sunday, April 24, 2011

Serena Camp

23 March 2011
4:30 in the morning and fast approaching the time we collectively (I mean both myself and the other RA, Meg) gather at the lab tent.  This morning’s rain plays the tarp overhead like a snare drum.  Maybe the running water and a need to part with a previous day’s worth of chai or, the slight discomfort caused by the humid microclimate that is my tent when it rains; I stepped through the zipper doors to better assess the situation.  The problem with the rain is simply its persistence. 
I guess I should back up and explain the daily routine for an RA in hyena camp.  At large my job is the observation and behavioral data collection of three clans of hyenas.  Each of these clans contains 10-20 adult females (the dominant social rank), a similar number of sub-adults, a similar number of adult males (the subordinate social rank), and any number of cubs.  Using distinct spot patterns and facial/ear scars all of the 130 plus hyenas must be known as an individual.  Because of their crepuscular nature, hyena observations occur seven days a week from first light to mid morning and from late afternoon until dark.  In addition to behavioral data we collect “fresh” fecal sample for DNA and hormone analysis, as well as a number of other various data collections aimed to investigate different aspects of hyena condition.   Finally while in the field we conduct bi-monthy prey transects to monitor density of various prey (herbivores from antelopes to elephants), and we are constantly keeping a running list of all predator sightings.  To date I have seen cheetahs, lions, banded mongoose, bat-eared fox, black backed jackal, and of course spotted hyenas.
During the day back at camp data is transcribed, some basic camp chores are carried out according to schedule, and camp finances are maintained.  Serena camp as I inhabit it (in no particular order) looks as follows (see attached photos)

“March 23, 2011 MMW and ZML leave camp at 5:45 am for obs (observations) at Happy Zebra territory.”  “Note at 5:50 slight rain begins.”  “ 6:06 enter Happy Zebra."  "Note: Same minute rain has increased.”  “6:20 leave Happy Zebra; tracks to wet to off-road.”
As I have indicated the biggest problem faced to date has to do with restricted road use and high likelihood that any intrepid driving effort would result in our vehicle stuck in mud. It seems best described as a war between rain and sun.  In a battle played out on the roads leading to hyena dens, the rain is winning and the roads are left a casualty of the opposing forces.  Talk of April’s scheduled rainy season has lost certain appeal.

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