Friday, September 23, 2016

Moments of Wonder

Obs 5:30 am – 9:00 am
Write up transcriptions and complete chores
Personal time, dinner if you are in Serena
Obs 5:00 pm – 8:30 pm
Dinner if you are in Talek

You would think that the days would slowly begin to blend together, and at times they do. I have frequently forgotten what day of the week it is, unless I am giving a talk or going to market day. However, while the days may blend together, they are never the same. Not a single day has gone by in the past eight months where something hasn’t made me stop for a few seconds to appreciate where I am. It is not always something big, like watching a group of fully grown hyenas play romping like a group of little cubs, but when I have the chance I try to find a way to share.


The Masai Mara has been referred to as the jewel of the Africa’s game parks for good reason. The large savannas and array of micro-ecosystems supported by two rainy seasons allows for an abundance and diversity of wildlife that is unrivaled in most of the continent. This is one of the many reasons why tourists and research teams, like ourselves, the Mara Lion Project, the Mara Cheetah Project, and the Mara Water project flock to the area. (Though, we have certainly been here the longest at 28 years!!) It is also something that provides research assistants, graduate students, and even professors memories that last a lifetime.

Elands (Taurotragus oryx)
Elands are normally very shy, and will bolt when trucks like ours come near.
This beautiful individual calmly fed within 10 m of my truck without showing any urge to run.
Black Rhinos (Diceros bicornis)
Its rare for us to encounter rhinos, even though we are out daily.
We do our best to let park managers know how often we sight them for population measures
Elephants (Loxodonta africana)
These animals are as majestic as they are intimidating.
I've always preferred to see them along the horizon, rather than outside my tent in the dark.
Wildebeest (Connochaetes taurinus)
At this point in the season its next to impossible to miss these.
The great migration season is starting to trail off, but we still count thousands of them monthly
Spotted hyenas (Crocuta crocuta)
Our lives revolve around these wonderful animals.
They have been called, ugly, mangy and all manner of foul names.
However, the more time you spend with them the more you can recognize their unique beauty

Sunrises and Sunsets

Sunsets and sunrises in the Mara remind me so much of the skies in my home state of New Mexico that my first blog this year was dedicated to the comparison. It is no surprise that the Mara and New Mexico seem so similar, as they share comparable elevations, can both be quite arid at times, are both results of geologically recent volcanic rifts and eruptions, and at one point even shared comparable fauna. Of course, to know this about the American southwest one would have to look at fossil records. We once had American cheetahs, mastodons, and many other species you would expect to see on an East African grassland (but never any bone-cracking hyaenids!). Many of these species went extinct not long ago due to changing climates, and competition with early humans. This connection between the two systems is always brought back to me when I watch the skies, reminding me how fragile this ecosystem is.

This shot was taken while I was having a nice sit with the oldest hyena on record, Navajo.
She will be turning 24 this November, and is still going strong.
I had just finished my morning coffee while observing cub behavior when I turned to this seen.
The wildebeest were apparently unaware that there were 20 hyenas denning here.
The evening was shaping up to be a very slow, dusty and hot game drive.
I had only seen a few jackals out wandering, and I was so focused I almost missed this.
Thankfully, I had stopped to scan the grass for hyenas when I realized what was happening.
This was from one of my last obs in Serena before heading back to the US for a bit.
I was intent on finding an active den to observe moms interaction with their cubs and peers..
Thankfully, when I turned off the main road I was blinded by this scene.

New Life

Due to the nature of my research I am able to spend a great deal of time with young animals as they mature. This means every morning and evening in the field I seek out situations were cubs are playing, nursing, learning and generally being extremely cute. It's what gets me out of bed each morning, even when I've earned a morning in, and what keeps me out late enough that I have to set an alarm so that I leave the den in time to make it to camp for curfew. [The rangers in Serena like us to be back close to 8 pm, because they are tracking poachers, and don't want to accidentally track us]. This means hours of comedic and cute antics of cubs, sub-adults that want to play with the cubs, and mothers either playing or being annoyed by the activity at the den.

This is Buenos Ares (BUAR) with her cub Hertz (HRTZ).
HRTZ was just under a week old when this photo was taken based on ears and facial markings
BUAR still had to lift HRTZ out of the den for her to nurse as she could barely walk
This is either Lake Toba (TOBA) or Kapuas River (KAPU), twins of JAVA
The twins are three weeks old here, but they still don't have distinct markings to tell them apart yet
These cubs are around four months old, and have enough spots to identify them.
When that stand still! The cubs of the South Clan cohort are notoriously playful.
They rarely slow down for more than a minute, and they love piling together to wrestle.
Every once in a while cubs just want to cuddle with their mom and nurse.
Grace O'Malley (OMLY) had an exhausting morning playing before curling up with mom
Not a hyena!
We recently found an area in our territory where some black backed jackals a denning
The pups are getting old enough now that they are learning to hunt, and are fun to observe. 

I hope this photo journey helped you see what we see, and understand why we do what we do. I encourage you to come out to the Mara to see these wonders for yourself. If you want to learn more about conservation of this area please check out the websites below.

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