Sunday, April 13, 2014

Muddy hyenas- the bane of hyena researchers.

Two young subadults playing in the mud. Ditches are a favorite spot for soaking in mud.

The rainy season has started in the Mara, although this is always a good thing for the ecosystem, it certainly makes doing hyena work much more difficult. We do a lot of off-road driving in order to find our hyenas but we have to be extremely careful to not leave tracks with the tires while we’re driving. It only takes about 6mm of rain for off-road driving to be a no-go. Luckily in the Mara Triangle the roads are very well maintained so there are certain parts of all three hyena clan territories that we can usually get to even when its wet. Despite good roads and tracks we’ve already gotten stuck twice now in our furthest territory. (The first time we had to jack up the cruiser and put some rocks underneath the tire and the second time we were able to maneuver the cruiser out).
I had no idea who this hyena was and they looked extremely smug about not contributing data to the research project.

Faces are not exempt from mud baths.

Once we arrive at a hyena den or find a group of hyenas we encounter an entirely different problem that the rainy season brings: muddy hyenas! Since we primarily use spots to ID hyenas the mud can be extremely frustrating. The hyenas love mud and they especially love to obscure the spot patterns that we use. On the hot sunny afternoons between evening rain showers the hyenas all seem to seek out muddy puddles where they can nap. Over the last year I’ve accumulated quite a few photos of unIDed muddy hyenas. If we’re lucky they have ear damage that we can use to identify them, but most of the time we can only guess.
George Costanza with caked mud all over his body. (Only IDable due to his size, he was the only small cub at the den.)

Perfect spot for a nap on a hot sunny day.

This cub was rolling in black-cotton mud. This mud is especially gooey and sticky. (He had a few shoulder spots on his other side so I can tell you this is BRON).

Two fluffy muddy cubs. This age is the hardest to ID because the fluff, even when they're clean, already obscures their spots. These two seemed quite perfectly camouflaged.

This hyena was covered in not just one type of mud, but two! Red murram and black cotton. She also seemed really itchy so I think she'd been trying out different mud holes in order to relieve the itching (from bug bites?)

Another unID. Happy as can be and not a spot in sight.

Buffalo also love the mud on hot sunny days. Surprisingly they are not adverse to sharing the good spots with hyenas. 

Bonus: Cute baby warthogs also like to get really muddy.


Anonymous said...

We observed a hyena in water in Ngorogoro Crater. Our guide said that he was cooling his stomach as his food digested, including everything such as bones. Any truth to this statement?

dee said...

Another great post Lily. Thanks.
We are all thinking about you guys and worrying about the hyenas during this very difficult time.

Lily J-U said...

Billgbill - I wouldn't say a hyena was cooling his stomach for food digestion in particular but rather to cool off the entire body on hot days. It is true that they eat bones however!

Thanks Dee!

Michigan State University | College of Natural Science