Tuesday, March 11, 2014

Waffles, LCS, and Kruuk's Culvert.

Right now the north hyenas “club” is at Kruuk’s culvert, a culvert just about a kilometer north of camp. We use the word “club” to refer to an area where the hyenas seem to prefer to hang out. The club and the den are the two main centers of activity within a territory. Kruuk was one of the first scientists to study spotted hyenas and is also the one who originally termed the word “club” to mean a spot where the hyenas like to hang out. The fact that the north hyena's club is currently at Kruuk's culvert is entirely coincidental but in the last few days we've seen some interesting stories unfolding here that have to do with our favorite hyena friendship, that of Waffles (North clan's matriarch) and LCS (a very low-ranking hyena in North clan named for her ear damage, a slit in the 'c' area of her left ear). 

LCS and Waffles are best buds. 

Two days ago we followed Waffles, North’s matriarch, to Kruuk’s culvert along with Waffles’ daughter LogC, son Torani, and grandson George. They joined up with Tinsel who was nursing her daughter Rama by Kruuk’s culvert. Not long after all the hyenas had seemed to settle down for the day we heard an antelope dying in the thicket not too far away. Immediately all six hyenas were up on their feet loping towards the source of the noise. We arrived to see LogC and Torani holding two halves of an impala calf- they clearly hadn’t killed it but they’d chased off the hyena who had before we arrived. Back towards Kruuk’s Culvert we saw that LCS had joined the group and we thought it might have been her who killed the calf since she was the only new hyena here. However poor LCS, a very low-ranking hyena, was not welcome at this hang out. LogC and Tinsel, with their blood still up, started aggressing on her the moment she got closer, asserting their higher ranks.

LCS also happens to be Waffles’ best friend but Waffles couldn’t do anything about her daughter’s aggression. In fact, in the heat of the moment Waffles actually joined in on a low level aggression we called a point, in which an animal rigidly points its entire body at the subordinate animal, usually with tails and ears erect. Even though this was a very low level aggression LCS had had enough, and she wasn’t going to forgive Waffles for that mishap. As LCS started to lope away Waffles’ demeanor changed from energetic to confused. We followed Waffles as she went loping after her best friend. When LCS disappeared a few hundred meters ahead of us over a low rise Waffles paused to give out four long low whoops, possibly trying to call her friend back. This was the first time I’d ever seen a hyena whoop in order to specifically call another hyena. Usually whoops seem to be reserved for announcing food or lions. However LCS essentially slammed the door in Waffles face when we crested the rise to see her disappear into a dense patch of grass without a single backwards glance.

LCS and Waflfes sharing a natal den.

Sometimes it really seems like Waffles and LCS’ friendship is a little lopsided with Waffles always pursuing and trying to be friendly to LCS, who can be indifferent. It was Waffles who moved her cubs to LCS’ natal den (where she had given birth to her son WAWA) and though LCS seemed perfectly content to share her hole with Waffles’ she really didn’t have any say in the matter. This goes against what the literature says animals of different ranks should behave. In socially complex animal societies lower ranker animals almost always prefer to associate with higher-ranking animals for benefits that such associations can confer. As a very low-ranking hyena LCS should be the one pursuing friendship with Waffles, the matriarch, rather than the other way around!

LCS and Waffles looking alert while their cubs explore the breakfast plains. 

Yesterday, to our relief, it seemed that Waffles and LCS had reconciled their differences and were back to being friends again. Together they took their cubs for one of their first graduation walks. Their destination? No big surprise: Kruuk’s Culvert. Kruuk’s culvert is a little over a kilometer away and this was the furthest from the den I’ve ever seen cubs of only 4 months old. Mrs. Butterworth (MRSB), Aunt Jemima (ANTJ), and Wailing Wall (WAWA pronounced Way-Wah) were all extremely excited to be out in the world. MRSB, ANTJ, and WAWA are all best buds (all boys) and they happily romped through the tall grass with their heads up and tails bristled.

New best buds in the making. MrsB, Wawa, and AntJ. 
It made me worry a little, if Waffles and LCS had bumped into any trouble there weren’t any holes near by for the cubs to take cover in and Waffles and LCS certainly wouldn’t be able to protect them from lions if it came to that. However, late morning is probably one of the safest times to take your cubs for a walk because the lions will hopefully all be asleep in the warm sunlight.

On their way back from Kruuk’s culvert they detoured a little bit over to Muffin den, the natal den where all three cubs had been raised until they were a little over a month old. I imagine the cubs’ paws must have been extremely sore by that point but they were as bouncy as ever while Waffles and LCS were starting to look a little exhausted. Even if Waffles and LCS’ relationship is a little lopsided LCS clearly still trusts Waffles greatly. She decided to sack out (lay down) in the small water hole near Muffin den to rest while her son WAWA went with Waffles and her cubs back to the den.

Very excited bristle-tailed MrsB and AntJ running through grass. 


Scissors MacGillicutty said...

What an amazing story and such an amazing relationship! If Waffles and LCS were humans, one might say that by maintaining her friendship with LCS, Waffles is trying to show she hasn't forgotten 'the old neighborhood,' i.e., the conditions under which they grew up.

Has anyone in zoology ever proposed this or something like it as a principle: the more intelligent an animal (as a species) is, the greater the number of exceptions to typical species behavior it will show? I'm nobody to propose such a principle as I've had zero training in zoology, and the only animals I know a little about the the spotted hyena and the painted dog (and the latter is interesting, but nowhere close to the hyena's league AFAICT) I'm just wondering if, say, people who study primates have to add in all sorts of exceptions and qualification to their usual behaviors.

Mudjie said...

Wonderfully informative article. Looking forward to updates!

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