Friday, April 20, 2012

April Showers Bring...Mud.

Impending doom over camp as I left Happy Zebra den

April was a different pace compared to my first few months here. We had much more rain, which meant a lot less time spent in the field collecting data. Rain also meant that the few times we tried to visit the hyena dens, the Mara made sure it was a challenge. Changing a tire at night only 100m from a hyena den as curious hyenas investigate the issue can be a little stressful. Fortunately, our second flat tire occurred during the daytime with no hyenas trying to assist, and when Noémie’s family was visiting, so it went much smoother.

My first week working alone in the Mara, I was unaware that a fuse had come loose in the fuse box of the Land Cruiser while driving in a rocky area one evening. So when I attempted to restart the car and head back to camp, I felt a surge of panic, but quickly regained my composure, knowing that all fuel and liquid levels were good and that the battery was still working. I now know that cars contain a fuse box... After waiting only 2 hours in the darkness standing on top of the vehicle, periodically waving a Maglight towards the glow of headlights on the horizon (with a visit from the South clan hyenas, including Clovis herself, lions fighting and/or killing something in the darkness and jackals and hyenas calling all around), I was graciously rescued by one of the Mara Conservancy mechanics.

My first week alone also included not only my first, but also my second time watching a bunch of hyenas on a kill! Obviously I was quite overwhelmed, especially since the second kill ended up being a different hyena clan than the ones we study, which explained my complete lack of recognition of any hyena! During the first kill, I witnessed Clovis (she seems to be a recurring them in my posts) drag an impala carcass into a mostly dry riverbed (called a lugga in Kenya, after many frustrating attempts to discover the meaning of this word) and then remove it a few minutes later. Intrigued by this behavior I did a little research. Apparently, the intelligent hyenas have discovered that if they cache their food in water, terrestrial predators cannot smell it, nor would they even think to search for it in water. Hyenas also seem to only cache food in small water bodies, not in crocodile-infested waters where they would quickly lose their meal. In March, after seeing a hyena swim across the low-level Mara River, we also discovered that not only can they swim, but they can dive and catch fish as well! These hyenas never cease to amaze us!
Clovis with an impala (dead, obviously)

My second week working alone included getting the tiny little Suzuki Maruti stuck in the mud, twice, but help was never far and both instances occurred during daylight. I am quickly learning to skirt around any area that looks even remotely squishy.

Despite not being out in the field as much, amazing animal moments still occurred! One morning, Noémie and I were overjoyed to come across a caracal! We probably spent more time following it than we should have, but then again, it was a caracal! Who knew when we would see one again? Well, 2 days later, I saw it again while driving back to camp one evening! One of my favorite moments this month, though, was when I was driving back from North clan’s den and came across a female cheetah, lying on a termite mound. I stayed there with her until after darkness when the cheetah left, because that moment was just too special for me to disturb with the noisy engine of the Land Cruiser. She now has a new litter of cubs! Hopefully they have better luck than the previous litter!

The most impressive moment happened fortunately when Noémie’s family was visiting. 4 giant male lions were marking their territory in South’s territory and we could tell these big boys had nothing to fear. This was most evident when they had all sacked out against each other in the middle of the plain in the rain but none batted an eye when we drove right up to them for photos. 1 lion is impressive, 2 is incredible, but 4 was absolutely amazing!

Lastly, if any former Fisi campers or blog followers recognize this snake and can confirm that it's not dangerous, that would be very much appreciated considering it is climbing my tent pole in the photo! It was between 1-1.5m long, green scales with black skin underneath, yellow belly, excellent tree climber (slithered straight up the trunk!), and occasionally puffed up its neck like a long balloon, when threatened.

Even during the rainy season, the Mara still manages to entertain!


june said...

the snake is so terrible!

Kenna said...

That's a mamba! Steer clear and keep us old Fisi campers from having a heart attack on your behalf.

Smale said...

Just checked with a snake expert and he says there's no doubt about it, that's a green mamba. Watch out!!!!

Deanna said...

We've had many suggestions: green mamba, boomslang, Battersby's green snake. Most are confirming that it is thankfully harmless!

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