Monday, March 30, 2015

Elephant Graveyard

In the Lion King, the hyenas live in an elephant graveyard, a neat looking place full of giant bones. While none of us have ever seen an elephant graveyard, you may have heard about our recent discovery of an elephant carcass being eaten by lions and hyenas.  While still a far cry from the Disney movie, this ‘elephant grave’ has proved to be the meeting grounds for hyenas from at least 3 different clans!
The elephant carcass as we found it.
The afternoon after we discovered the carcass, we returned to the scene to find a subadult feeding on the elephant head. Expecting it to be a hyena from the local Happy Zebra (HZ) clan, we were momentarily perplexed…until we realized it was Lunch Lady, a 2.5 year old male from North territory! Lunch Lady munched on the carcass for a bit before realizing that a lioness was stalking him, at which point he high tailed it out of there. Higgs-Boson and Istanbul, two hyenas actually from HZ clan, watched Lunch Lady and her stalker from the comfort of some nearby bushes. 

Lunch Lady eyes us while he eats the elephant carcass.

Lunch Lady isn’t the only North hyena spotted at this carcass. We also saw Raleigh, a North immigrant male, checking out the rotting elephant.  While Raleigh was sniffing around, Apple (a HZ adult female) showed up and snagged a lower leg and foot from where she had stashed it in the grass earlier (the lions didn’t even notice her). Raleigh seemed intrigued by Apple, but even more intrigued by that delicious looking foot! He came over to give her and her food a sniff, although he was sure to demonstrate that he knew she was dominant to him. After he approached and submissive postured and sniffed her, she proceeded to ignore him completely and work on devouring her afternoon snack.

Apple walking proudly with her elephant foot
Photo by Agathe Laurence
The coolest interaction we have seen between hyenas from different clans was between a female we’ve named Bertha (likely from the Oz Valley clan, a neighboring group of hyenas) and a bunch of the HZ clan! Bertha and one other alien hyena were hanging out in the midst of the Happy Zebra hyenas as they all watched jealously while the lions fed on the elephant meat. You could tell Bertha wasn’t particularly happy about being surrounded by hyenas from a different clan; her ears were plastered back and she was submissively grinning nearly the whole time! The Happy Zebra hyenas were fairly gracious hosts, however, aside from some low level aggressions against her from Higgs-Boson, Silkwood, Apple, and Baccarat. In the end, Bertha even coalitioned against the lions with Tempe, a Happy Zebra immigrant male!
Higgs-Boson and Silkwood coalition against the alien female.
Note her ears plastered way back and her submissive posture.

These were pretty exciting observations for all of us, given that inter-clan interactions are very rare sightings for our project.. Perhaps the presence of lions suppressed the intense aggressive behavior that we sometimes see directed at females when they are found in foreign territory. Interestingly, the elephant carcass was located right at the border of the territories of North, South, Happy Zebra, and potentially Oz Valley (a non-study clan).  It could also be that the liminal location of the carcass made aggressions between groups from different clans less likely, as no one clan felt the need to defend carcass for themselves. 

The elephant carcass provided us a lot of action, some interesting behaviors, and a plethora of awful smells. Alas, on our most recent visit to the carcass, we found that it all had been devoured or carried off. Here is the most recent photo taken of the carcass, just 8 days after we first found it – all that remains is the skull. Our Disney-inspired hopes for an elephant graveyard have been crushed surprisingly quickly.

All that remains of the carcass 8 days after
the above photo is the skull. The rocky patch
is where the carcass used to be.

1 comment:

dee said...

Really good post Eli, thanks. The videos and photos were wonderful.

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