If you’ve been following the blogs recently, you’ll have learned from Matt how we use spots to ID the copious amounts of hyenas that we keep track of. You also learned about some of our other methods from Ashlei when the spots just aren’t good enough to make an ID (collars, scars, ear damage etc…) But, as you might expect, new-born cubs don’t pop out of the womb with a name, distinguishing features and a great picture that we can use to identify them!
Cubs are born at a natal den, where we usually aren’t able to observe them because they spend their time in the den until they're old enough to move to a communal den with the rest of the cubs. They are born all black, so telling one new born cub apart from another without any context can sometimes be impossible.
|Boomerang's cubs "Walk the Plank" and "Why is the|
Rum Gone" at 3 weeks old
Once they’re two-three weeks old, their mother will bring them to the communal den where they’ll remain until they graduate from den life 10 months to a year later. At two to three weeks, the little black cubs still look pretty similar. They start to develop white rings around their eyes, and white eyebrows, but unless they happened to get a scar from playing a little bit too rough with their littermate, they’re still often referred to as “little black cub,” for lack of distinguishing features.
|Hawk's cub "Sports Illustrated" developing white |
At this point, as far as identification goes, we have two goals. Our first objective is to find features to distinguish one cub from another. When we do this, we’re able to give them a cub name, which can be just about anything, and helps us to keep track of the young cubs if there are several of them.
Our second objective, although they don’t always happen in this order, is to figure out who the mother is. With a known mother, we can give the cub a permanent name pertaining to their lineage. A lineage, as Heidi discussed in one of her older blogs, is a theme given to a mother when she has her first litter. All of her cubs will be given a name pertaining to this theme, which makes it easy for us to keep track of who’s related to whom.
|Eremet's cub Puff, formerly C-dot, before Erem|
was known as the mother
Typically, finding distinguishing features on a cub and figuring out who its mother is happen relatively early on and close together. Even without any scarring, cubs will start developing shoulder spots at a few months old, which will help tremendously in telling them apart. As for figuring out who the mother is, the cubs have to nurse from her at some point! Every once in a while, though, we have a case where this doesn’t work out so smoothly. Meet Chubs, one of our cubs in the Serena North Clan:
Chubs is almost 4 and a half months old. He has beautiful spots, a nice orange mohawk, and we have no trouble distinguishing from other cubs. As his name would suggest, he also happens to be quite plump and healthy, and shows no signs that he’s malnourished. Somehow, we’ve still yet to figure out who the mother is. She must be around, because somebody is clearly nursing him, but she never seems to come around the den while we’re there (which is for a considerable amount of time every day). At least he has a cute cub name; to remain Chubs for the rest of his life wouldn’t be so bad!