Friday, November 21, 2014

Food Caching

            A few months ago, as Sarah, Philomen, and I were driving around North Territory, we happened upon one of our lower ranking moms, INK, feeding on a fresh Thomson’s gazelle carcass. Most of the organs and meat were already finished, and INK was slowing down a little. Spotted hyenas get their reputation as scavengers from the fact that they eat almost every part of an animal, including bones, hair, and teeth. With plenty of delicious bones and hair left, INK was not ready to give up the gazelle. As we watched, she looked around suspiciously, picked up the rest of the carcass and carried it into a nearby buffalo wallow. She waded into the water and dropped the carcass. She then spent a few minutes paddling around, looking nonchalant, as if to prove to any spying scavengers that she was merely enjoying a bath, and there was nothing to see here. After about ten minutes, she emerged from her bath, muddier than when she entered it, and walked away.

INK, trying to decide whether this gazelle will be better as leftovers
 Photo: Sarah Jones 
             This behavior, called food caching, is exciting because we don't get to see it very often. Spotted hyenas often store food scraps and leftovers in water or in bushes, and return later to finish up. Because they try to stash their food a little sneakily, it's hard for us researchers to catch them at it. Storing their scraps under water minimizes the smell, and helps ensure that no one else will come along and eat their leftovers without their permisson, a problem I am sure we can all relate to.

INK surreptitiously stashing the carcass
Photo: Sarah Jones
               According to Este's Behavior Guide to African Mammals, a hyena can eat up to 1/3 of its own weight (a worthy goal for everyone at Thanksgiving this year). The Kingdon Field Guide to African Mammals reports that hyenas can eat 13kg in one go, almost 29 lbs. While that is impressive, even INK couldn't finish a Thomson's in one sitting.

INK pretending there is absolutely nothing stashed in that wallow
Photo: Sarah Jones
Just the other day, we saw ARRO carry a tasty scrap of skin and hair into a wallow, hang out with it there for a while, and carry it away again.

ARRO, innocently pretending that she has no food to hide

and trying to decide if our car is going to try to steal her scrap.
ARRO looking around for hyenas who might try to get in on that tasty chunk of soggy skin

First, she decided that she should enjoy her bath and her snack at the same time

But on second thought, decided that we were staring too hard at her snack

So she carried her food off into the sunrise.

1 comment:

MarshmallowBear said...

Time to do some theory of mind tests, huh?

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