Saturday, May 23, 2015

Life and Death in the Happy Zebra clan

Before reading this post, be warned that there are some graphic photos.

Sports Illustrated, a Happy Zebra subadult
The last time I saw Sports Illustrated alive, we met while I was coming back from a solo obs session. He was napping in the road, and I stopped to see if he would make some room for me to pass. He looked at me for a second before getting up and walking towards me and past the car into the night. He came so close that I could have reached my hand out and touched him.

A week later, he was seen emaciated and staggering, barely able to move. Another week passed, and we found him dead.

We were headed to the new Happy Zebra communal den when we found two subadults; Sports Illustrated was dead and Walk the Plank (we just call him Plank) looked like he would be dead momentarily. Plank was tiny and fragile, and walked with the same staggering gait that we had seen in Sports Illustrated a week prior.

Plank investigating Sports Illustrated's body
Plank staggered over to Sports Illustrated and began to half-heartedly nibble at him for a few moments before collapsing nearby. When we got out to collect Sports Illustrated’s body, Plank was almost completely non-responsive to our presence.

We drove home to do the necropsy on Sports Illustrated with the knowledge that we may have to do another on Plank shortly.

Plank half-heartedly chewing on Sports Illustrated
It was a few weeks before we saw Plank again; he still looked terrible, but he was feeding on a topi carcass and seemed to have improved. He was even able to keep Higgs-Boson, a lower-ranking Happy Zebra subadult, from feeding.

Plank feeds on a Topi carcass while
 Higgs-Boson waits his turn
Now Plank has once again become a regular visitor at the communal den. His growth has been significantly set back by his period of poor health, but he is fat and happy and appears to be on the path to recovery. 
Plank happily rolling in something stinky at the
Happy Zebra communal den


Ignacious Gman said...

Has/was your necropsy been able to tell what killed poor sports illustrated, if it was something other than starvation?

And why was plank nibbling on s. Illustrated's corpse? Mourning maybe? Or would hyenas actually try canabalism in a starvation situation?

Also if they were starving, did something happen to their mothers?

Eli Strauss said...

Hi Ignacious,

Thanks for your questions! We think the cause of death was starvation.

Yes, hyenas will eat other carnivores (including other hyenas) when they are hungry, although herbivores are much better and tastier food for them so they do so rarely.

We also initially suspected that something had befallen the mothers of these two, but it turns out that they were fine. It was a particularly long and harsh dry season, so that may have had something to do with why they were both in such a poor state.


Ignacious Gman said...


its good to know at least one of the two might make it!

I guess, as hard as it is to see little critters like that suffer, its unfortunate but its necessary. And Plank, albeit suffered in their physical development will probably be all the more capable of managing the hardships of future difficult seasons. What doesn't kill ya makes ya stronger. And that little cub has proven their strength this time. :) Go get 'em champ!

Michigan State University | College of Natural Science