Wednesday, July 3, 2013

Alien Abduction!

I don’t know if you would remember from last summer, but part of my research is looking at hyenas’ boldness. So, I have been doing tests with a life-size model hyena which hyenas seem to interpret as an intruder. This model is actually an archery target, so we call it Target. Last year, I introduced you to Target and Junior, and this year I brought Targé III to the Mara with me.


The newly set up Targé III

Anyways, I have been conducting the same experiments as last year where I put Target out in front of a lone hyena and see how they react to the “intruder” to measure their boldness. I’m doing this experiment again this year firstly to get enough data to analyze; secondly, I want to compare the data I get from our Talek clans where there is a lot of human disturbance to our Serena clans where there is less human disturbance. Currently, I am in Serena, and these trials have been going really well. However, right now I’m going to tell the story of Diggory’s awful, no good, horrible, very bad day.

Diggory, otherwise known as Digs, is a hyena in our North clan at Serena. On this day in particular, I’m sure her day started as any other until she came ambling down a road by herself towards this crazy white car that always stops to look at her for a long time for some reason. Inside the car, I get all excited because it is the perfect set up for a Target trial. We rush to a bend in the road so that she won’t see us put out Targé before we even identify who is coming down the road. We pull to the side of the road to record her interaction with Targé, and Lily, the research assistant with me, actually looks at the hyena to figure out who she is. It quickly becomes apparent that the hyena is Digs because she has a big notch out of the lower part of her right ear.

Digs is sort of high ranked in the clan, which has made her a desirable target to Dave who wanted to dart her to put on a GPS collar. Dave had been trying for awhile to find a hyena around Digs’s rank to deploy his last GPS collar for his research. At first I was excited that we were getting a Target trial with Digs, but then I realized we couldn’t let Digs go out of sight at the end of the trial like I normally would if Dave was going to dart her. Diggory couldn’t disappear before Dave had a chance to reach us; he was in a different one of our territories. We let the Target trial continue, and Lily calls Dave to tell him to rush over for Digs.

Digs meanwhile is completely bewildered by Targé. She circles to get downwind of it, but she is a little hesitant to approach. She does everything in her power to figure out who this hyena is without having to get too close. In the end, Digs still gets closer to Targé than many of the Talek hyenas did, but she quickly decides to leave after doing so.


Diggory and Target

In the car, I’m trying to figure out the best time to end the trial. I can’t end it as I normally would because we would lose her, and Dave hadn’t arrived to follow her yet. In the end, I wait until she has walked about 40m away and is still facing away. We don’t want her to see us pick up Target because we don’t want the hyenas to associate too much weird stuff with our cars. However, she turns around just in time to see my summer student, Moira, lifting Targé into the back of the truck. I look up to see Digs turn around, and her whole body posture changes. She jumps, her head comes bolt upright with her ears pricked completely forward, her body tenses, and her tail sticks straight out from her body. It was then that I realize that she definitely had not recognized that Targé was not a real hyena; Digs looked as if she had just witnessed an alien abduction.

After pacing back and forth a bit, Digs seems to have settled herself enough to keep walking on, and of course, we follow. She goes off road, but we still follow her from a distance. Now we want her to be calm and not get spooked and run away before Dave can arrive to try to dart her. We slowly follow her for about twenty minutes until Dave reaches us. She keeps looking back at us, and in the car we were entertaining ourselves with a running narrative. “You’re still there? Why are you following me? I’m not doing anything interesting. I’m not even at the den with my cub where you usually spy on me. Maybe if I ignore you, you’ll go away. What, you’re still there? Good grief. You already took one hyena!”

Once Dave finds us and Digs, he continues to follow her for another hour and a half until she is in a good position to be darted. Lily, Moira, and I hang back further in case Digs somehow escapes Dave, Wes, and Emily. Finally, Digs’s morning is interrupted again when Dave darts her. We were all ecstatic because Dave had been trying for months to get that last collar out. But then the real alien abduction occurs. She is knocked out, we take all sorts of measurements from her, collect blood and bacterial samples, and then transport her in a car to a safe place to wake up.



Collecting samples and measurements from Digs

And after that terrible morning, Digs woke up wearing new jewelry, a lovely GPS collar. The collars seem to annoy them for the first day, but after that, they get used to it pretty quickly.


Digs looking spiffy in her collar

Luckily for us, Digs isn’t acting strange around the cars these days. We still see her, and now we can track her. But I wonder what she must have been thinking that entire morning.

1 comment:

dee said...

Thanks for posting.... It's great to hear and see what is happening with the animals. Please keep it up.

Michigan State University | College of Natural Science