Thursday, July 27, 2017

Beginner's Luck

I'm Julie, a new PhD student with the hyena project. I recently finished my master’s degree in Conservation Ecology at the University of Michigan where I studied feeding and behavioral ecology of gelada monkeys in the Simien Mountains in Northern Ethiopia. I’m thrilled to be joining the Hyena Project, and learning how to transition from studying monkeys to hyenas. Luckily, both are fascinating!

A band of geladas in the Simien Mountains National Park, Ethiopia. Geladas are closely related to baboons, but belong to a different genus, Theropithecus, and only live in the Ethiopian highlands. Geladas live in large multi-level societies, and spend much of their day moving across high altitude plateaus and feeding on grass.

I was fortunate enough to get a chance to visit the Mara before starting the PhD program. This is a great opportunity to watch the hyenas and learn about how the data are collected to help me develop some ideas for my research. My trip started off in Serena Camp, where I had some serious beginner’s luck. My first morning out on "obs" with Lily and Kecil, the hyena Lily was conducting a cognition trial on looked up suddenly and ran off into the distance. Luckily, we were able to find where he ran off to and came upon a large group of hyenas feeding on a fresh warthog carcass. Just as we were settling in to watch the feeding session, two lionesses appeared out of the bushes, and started charging and roaring at the hyenas. The hyenas stood firm and mobbed the lions several times and retained control of the carcass. As the lions continue to circle the hyenas, we noticed four lion cubs in the bushes, waiting hopefully for a free meal. 


The lions attempted to get the carcass a few more times, but backed off.


The lions tried to get the carcass one more time. At the end of this video, you can see Waffles, the alpha female, take off with the carcass, leaving the rest of the hyenas to deal with the lions.


The hyenas eventually moved the carcass onto the road, and walked away from the lions. Waffles is on the far left with the carcass, while two hyenas stop to greet each other.

The lions trailed after them, but eventually gave up on their chance to steal breakfast, and watched the hyenas walk away. Hyenas often get a bad reputation for being scavengers and stealing from lions, so we had to set the record straight with a tour vehicle watching this interaction that the hyenas were the ones who made the kill, and the lions were attempting to steal it. This was clear because the lions had no blood on them, and many of the hyenas heads and necks were bloody from feeding.

One brave hyena approached the lions.

A few of the hyenas stop for a dip in the pond.

And that was only my first morning! My first week has been a whirlwind. I spent most of my time in Talek and have got to meet the field crew, seen many fascinating hyena behaviors and interactions, learned to identify a few hyenas, and seen tons of amazing wildlife including the wildebeest migration! I am heading back to Serena, and am looking forward to the rest of my time in the Mara!

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