Friday, April 8, 2016

The best birthday present

Jambo!  My name is Amy Fontaine, and I am the newest Research Assistant in the Holekamp Lab.  I will be here in Kenya contributing to the Mara Hyena Project for one year!

Today is my twenty-third birthday.  I never imagined years ago that I would get to spend this birthday in a place as beautiful as the Masai Mara National Reserve!

I wanted to work with animals since I was very young.  In pursuit of this dream, I studied Wildlife Biology at Humboldt State University.  While participating in various research projects, I got to play with all sorts of animals, including honey bees...


and more!

Now I am here, and I can hardly believe it.  I arrived in the Mara on Sunday, and it already feels like home.  I am so grateful for this opportunity and I'm learning and experiencing new things every day.

This morning, for example, I witnessed my first lion/hyena session.  In our data collection protocols, we define an observational "session" as a group of carnivores (typically hyenas) within 200 meters of one another.  As we travel through the Mara collecting behavioral observations, we record certain details for any sessions we encounter.

Lion/hyena sessions are, obviously, sessions that include both lions and hyenas.  Contrary to what The Lion King may have told you, spotted hyenas are not merely lowly scavengers.  In fact, they kill 60-95% of the food they eat themselves.  This particular morning, however, the lions were the ones in possession of food.  Four adult lions, two males and two females, were crunching on bones in the bushes near a lugga, and a group of over twenty-four hyenas from Talek West Clan had their eyes on them and their meal.
The front of the group of hyenas, looking towards the lugga and the lions.
The lions themselves were just hanging out in the bushes.  They seemed pretty undisturbed by the hyenas.
One of the two male lions in the group, lying in the bushes.
In the end, the encounter did not end in conflict.  One by one, the hyenas lost interest and left the scene.

During our observations, we do not always see grandiose, dramatic National Geographic moments - of intense competition or predation, for example.  Sometimes we just see animals resting, or wandering aimlessly, or spending time together.  But to me, it is always interesting and exciting to just watch and see what happens.  Whatever I witness, it is always something new.  And to me, getting to live in this amazing place and learn from these fascinating mammals is the best birthday present I could have asked for.

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