Wednesday, September 30, 2015

Darting in the Mara

Hello again, My name is Benson and I am a Research Assistant (RA) for the Mara Hyena Project.
As an RA, we do many things like going out for observations every morning and every evening to collect behavioral data. We also collect demographical data which includes counting the number of hyenas each day. But one of the most interesting responsibilities that we have as RAs is darting hyenas.

When I first started darting it was very stressful. One of the first hyenas I darted was a sub-adult female named Galapagos. The darting seemed to go well and Galapagos fell asleep smoothly. It wasn’t until it was time to wake her up that things started becoming difficult. I was afraid that she might not have woken up because she was not lifting her head or moving. I asked my fellow RA, Hadley and Grad student, David what we should do. We checked her heart rate and her breathing patterns and they checked out ok, but she was still a sleep. Finally, after two hours of waiting, Galapagos started waking up and lifting her head. I was relieved and happy that Galapagos was alive and strong. From this experience I saw how important it was to follow certain rules when darting hyenas.

How do we dart hyenas?
When darting an animal we have to take certain precautions. There are many rules to follow in order to make sure an animal is safe. One rule we follow, is that we will not dart any animal if they are near large pools of water or near surrounding bushes. We do this because the animal might harm itself by drowning in these large pools or being harmed by other animals hidden in the bushes. Another important rule we follow, is that we will never dart female hyenas near male hyenas. This is because if a female hyena is vulnerable, then a male hyena may take advantage of the situation and harm her. Once the situation is safe then we can begin to set up for darting.

We first start by concentrating the drug and loading it into the dart. Then we load the dart into the Telinject Darting gun. We sit and wait until the hyena is not looking at us, because we do not want the hyena to associate the darting experience with us. And when the opportunity allows, we can successfully dart the hyena.

Why do we dart hyenas?
Once the hyena is asleep, we proceed in collecting a variety of physiological samples. We collect blood samples for DNA analysis. We also collect bacterial swabs from the anus, anal sac (paste gland) nares, buccal and prepuse (phallus or genitalia) because we want to see if there are common bacteria strains shared within the clan. We also put radio collars on males that are getting ready to disperse, or leave the clan to find a new home. Radio collars help us study where they go and how far they go from their natal or home territory. We often collar adult females so we can track their movements within the territory.
Additionally, we measure dental and body parts while the hyena is asleep.

Once we have collected all the data we place the animal under a “recovery bush” that protects it front other animals and heat. After the hyena is safe, we return to camp to process our samples and then place them in LN2 for proper storage until they can be sent back to Michigan for further analysis.

How darting is important for researchers like us.
Darting is important because we are able to learn new things about each individual hyena, as well as the clan as a whole. We have collected a lot of DNA from many of our study hyenas in order to form hyena genetic relationships. Members in our lab back in Michigan are studying parental genetic relationships as well as other family ties. Darting is a great opportunity to gather more information about hyenas and their behavior. I am excited to continue to work for this project and learn more about these amazing creatures.


dee said...

Thank you Benson! I really enjoyed this post. I have had the privilege of watching you work in the field and you are the most careful and competent RA I have seen in many years. The project is very lucky to have you as a member. You have much to teach the new folks.

Chase O'Neil said...

Remember when you darted Chicos? She looked so confused and walked towards the car with a face that said, "why would you do such a thing to me?" But she had no memory of it the next time we saw her. That was my favorite one! (Plus, we taught those tourists a thing or two about lions and hyenas when they drove by!)

Michigan State University | College of Natural Science