Monday, March 16, 2015

Elephant Carcass Monday

Things in Serena have been a little quiet lately. According to Philomen, head cook and Serena camp mzee (swahili for "elder"), we are experiencing the worst draught since 1993. The hyenas have been spending their days sacked out in ditches and puddles, trying to escape the heat and stay close to water. They are too hot and lazy to even show up to the den to play or hang out, so we've had a definite lack of hyena excitement lately. This morning though, Happy Zebra clan stepped up to the challenge.

Eli and I had a great den session; a bunch of hyenas were there acting excited and fighting a little over an old piece of buffalo skin. The cub cohort in Happy Zebra is getting old enough to go on small adventures away from the den, as long as they have plenty of adult supervision. BOOM and JLYR took the youngsters for a wander, and we ended up following them to a nice watering hole where even more hyenas were hanging out and playing. We headed back from the den around 8:00am, already commenting that it was one of the best mornings we had had in a while.

On the way home, we started picking up Molly Ringwald's radio collar. We tracked her to the edge of the territory, where we could see ten hyenas sacked out across an uncrossable lugga. We drove back to the road, found a crossing, and drove back out to where we had seen the hyenas. As we neared we noticed that they were smelling considerably worse than normal, and we rounded a termite mound to find a giant elephant rump sticking out of the lugga. We had found a juvenile elephant carcass! Lions were lounging around the carcass, not feeding, but making sure the hyenas couldn't get a bite. The hyenas were biding their time, wandering and napping around the lions. We ID'd all the hyenas and headed back to camp, where we contacted the Mara Conservancy to let them know what we had found.

One brave hyena managed to snag a bite
Photo by Eli Strauss

This lioness was determined to keep the hyenas away

When elephants die of natural causes, rangers collect the ivory tusks to prevent poachers from finding  and selling them. After showing some rangers to the site of the carcass, we returned to camp to eat and get some work done. I got a call this afternoon letting me know that rangers were heading back out to the carcass to remove the tusks. We all piled into our cruiser and drove out to the carcass one more time.
How many people does it take to detusk an elephant?

Elephant tusks are modified incisor teeth, so they are embedded in a socket in the skull. In order to get them out, the ranger had to chop open the socket and pull and wiggle the tusk until it popped out.

Alfred, a Mara Conservancy ranger, pulling out a tusk
Video by Eli Strauss

The head after one tusk had been removed
Alfred, showing off his tusks
The tusks have been weighed and recorded and turned over to the Kenyan Wildlife Services, and the elephant carcass will hopefully provide us with a couple of days of hyena feeding fun!

1 comment:

kay said...

Very cool, Molly! And thanks for reporting this so promptly to the rangers.

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