Thursday, February 16, 2017

Valentine's Day

Happy Valentine's Day,
my fellow hyena enthusiasts!

While there may not be chocolates and roses here in the Masai Mara, Valentine's Day certainly was not forgotten. Although Valentine's Day may come at different times of year for buffalo, hyenas, and eagles, everyone celebrates in their own way.

True love: the cloacal kiss of the Martial Eagle
Martial Eagles are truly monogamous, and arguably more faithful than humans. Before each mating bout, the male spends many days seducing his mate with the finest of foods. After performing a courtship ritual midair, the couple consummates their relationship with a cloacal kiss. The male mounts the female and presses his cloaca up to hers, transferring his sperm. His role isn't over yet: he will be a committed father to their chick, bringing food back to the nest.

Photo courtesy of Stratton "Eagle Eyes" Hatfield, explorer extraordinaire.
The open relationship
Buffalo are quite promiscuous; both the males and females. As the breeding season approaches, the breeding herds join forces with the bachelor herds to get some love. An interested male "tends" to a female, following her until she reciprocates his feelings. If, during this time, she catches the eye of a more dominant male, the first male's courtship will all be for naught. If he is successful, there are still no strings attached; there is no lasting social bond between the male and female. In fact, as soon as they are finished, she will welcome another male's advances... and maybe even another.

The rolling stone
Elephants are incredibly social, but only the ladies and their kiddos are welcome to join the party. The bachelors are destined to a life of solitary roaming, but enter the exclusive ladies-only club when they are in musth: a state of high sexuality and aggression.
Rather than watching for a little wink or a flirty smile, bulls have to work a little harder to gauge a female's receptivity. He rubs the end of his trunk against her genitals, inhaling as he goes, and then uses the tip of his trunk to blow the air back into his own mouth. The smell will tell him whether or not his love interest is in estrus.
The fifty-year-old males with the largest trunks tear up the love scene in the herds, while the younger, smaller-trunked males have to bide their time. After a few weeks with his lady and her family, the bachelor is back out roaming the fields.

Two young elephants play-mount, practicing for someday when they'll become parents!
Photo credit to Erin Person, the glue that holds the hyena lab together!
The patriarch
Little is known about the secret love lives of Thomson's gazelles. However, one thing is clear: the males call the shots. Males defend a territory and will actively herd females to keep them on "their property." The males will attempt to mate with many females that he keeps in his territory.

Photo courtesy of Erin Person.
The cute couple
Bat-eared foxes, like Martial Eagles, are quite committed to one another. A territory is defended by a single mated pair. During the day, they sleep cuddled up together in a burrow. During the long nights, they forage together. The two also groom each other, play together, and protect and support each other. The monogamous pair breeds annually and then raises their kits together.

Photo courtesy of Erin Person.
It's complicated
A lion's love affair is a complicated one, rife with romance and fighting. A flirtatious female invites a male over to mate with her and he happily obliges. And then he obliges again, and again, and again. Their relationship runs hot for days as they mate multiple times per an hour. At each dismount, they have a small spat -- the dismount is painful for the female -- but within seconds, she calls him back over, rolling on her back and reaching out to him with a paw.

The mongoose sandwich
Like spotted hyenas, female dwarf mongooses run the show! A matriarch has a single mate within the group, and this couple is the only one to mate. However, this Valentine's Day, it looks the one queen decided to give everyone a go. The four mongooses formed a small train, swapping places with one another every few seconds. They won't be forgetting this Valentine's Day anytime soon.

Was this true mating? Was it just play-mounts? We may never know.

The gentleman
Female hyenas run the show; there's no question about it. This makes courting a nerve-wracking endeavor for interested males. The male and female spend time together -- wandering, resting -- before the male starts to make his move. At the beginning of the courtship, the male has to get up his nerve; he will attempt to approach her again and again, each time losing his nerve and backing off from her. As he gets bolder, he will groom his forelegs (a sure sign of adoration) and even bow for her. What a gentleman.

Katana bows to a beautiful female hyena.
But then again, aren't all hyenas beautiful?

If the female shares his feelings, they will go on a little getaway together. They head to the edge of their territory or, in Stardust's and Onekama's case, into the outskirts of a neighboring clan's territory. This ensures that they will have some much-needed privacy.

Mating requires quite a bit of skill on Onekama's part. He has to insert his phallus into hers! This requires Stardust's full cooperation. But, as you can see, he's got it!

Onekama rests his had on Stardust's back as they mate, just meters away from our car.

After Stardust's first-ever taste of copulation, she wasn't quite done with Onekama yet. She playfully chased him, even as the exhausted guy tried desperately to escape. They ran in circles around our car! Finally, he obliged and off they went again. After they were truly done, Onekama returned to their territory, with a very content Stardust on his heels. Along the way, they stopped at a small pond to swim and playfully splash each other. We named the pond The Honeymoon Suite.

Stratton Hatfield, Martial Eagle Researcher and Explorer Extraordinaire
Animal Diversity Web

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