Monday, August 24, 2015

Welcome to The Mother Continent

Good morning! Good afternoon! Good evening!
Greetings from KENYA!

My name is Ciara, but here I am known as Akinyi, which means “born in the morning” to the Luo tribe of Kenya.  

I am one of the two new research assistants (RAs) that will be living in the most suburban of the hyena research camps here in the Mara—Talek Fisi Camp. Here we study the largest hyena clan ever documented, known as Talek West.

I was born and raised in sunny California and having recently graduated from UC Davis (Goooo Aggies!). I have a BA in Animal Science with an emphasis in Animal Behavior. At UC Davis I was working under the mentorship of Dr. Gail Patricelli and one of her graduate students, Anna Perry, studying seasonal changes in courtship behaviors of male sage grouse. In this project I watched endless amounts of videos recording male courtship behaviors. I wanted to see if individual males performed differently, or even similarly, to attract females and if so, if females chose males based on these different aspects of their display.

My interests in male display and female choice carried into other mating systems, particularly mammalian matriarchal societies. Matriarchal societies are those where the females in a group maintain dominance over the males in the group, such as the Spotted hyena (Crocuta crocuta). Female hyenas are highly aggressive towards males, leaving males few opportunities to display their “sexiness.”

When males are allowed to court a female, they perform a variety of interesting behaviors that include: baiting (i.e aggressively biting, snapping and chasing) a female, grooming a female’s back, or bowing (i.e lifting up one paw and crossing it over the other) to a female. How well a male displays (or how attractive he is), may determine if he successfully mates. The more interesting questions is, what is the female looking for in a displaying male? Do higher ranking females set “higher” standards to males that court them? I’d like to investigate these questions and entertain my thoughts while I am here.

Additionally, I will be assisting Kenna Lehmann, a graduate student in the hyena lab, with her project on hyena vocalizations (i.e. whoop, growl etc.). This is just one of many fascinating mini-projects we have available to work on as RAs.

I am super excited to spend this next year in Kenya with my fellow 2015 cohort: Jared, Erin, Emily, Robyn and Amy. I am also enthused to be trained by the professional fisi RAs Hadley, Benson and Wilson.

It has been 27 years and this project has revealed a vast amount of information that has been distributed all across the world; I cannot wait to help contribute. It is an honor and a privilege to be a part of such a long lasting project.

Blessed beyond measure


1 comment:

CorvusMeeki said...

The New Scientist ran an article a few months ago about females competing with each other and I meant to ask about that with the hyenas (the courtship talk reminded me). The article made the point that female competition is more often for things like nesting sites, access to food sources etc rather than for males. I wondered what female hyenas compete with each other for and how it helps their reproductive success? Some of the posts touch on carcass and kill access, and there were also some great posts about momma hyenas defending their cubs. Do they compete for sites within a den? Are there 'better' holes for cubs, 'better' babysitters to leave cubs alone with?

Michigan State University | College of Natural Science