Tuesday, May 22, 2018

Sloth Bear and my field experiment

Hello everyone!

Life in the mara is good! There has been less rain here in Serena Camp, so we have been able to go on evening obs consistently. I’ve spent a lot of time at the dens and other popular hyena hang out spots conducting my scent discrimination trials. In case you have forgotten (I don’t blame ya), I am conducting trials to investigate the type of information being encoded in hyena paste (scent gland secretions). I present hyenas with the scent/paste of 2 alien hyenas they have never met before and record the amount of time they spend sniffing, biting, and rubbing on the stimulus. The paste sample usually comes from an alien adult female and an alien adult immigrant male.

The scent trials are highly entertaining; for example, here is sloth bear loving these sticks:

Making a tough choice:

Sloth bear is my most active participant. He never fails to sniff and interact with the sticks at every trial, and he spends the most time at the sticks than any other hyena! His mom spends the entire time following him around (to nurse I presume), but all sloth bear wants to do is be around those sticks! When his mom gets tired of this, she goes towards my sticks, gives them a brief sniff, and then pulls them from the ground; effectively terminating my trial 😅

Sometimes the cubs are not interested in the sticks or are bored by them:

and instead engage in vigorous play, which is very fun to watch:

In my last post, I mentioned how I was having difficulty getting adult participation. There were 2 problems: 1) I was not seeing many adults at the dens, and 2) those that were at the dens, were hesitant to approach the sticks. What I have been doing now, at least with our south clan, is to drive down tracks that hyenas frequent. This has been successful, and I have been getting adults and subadults to sniff the sticks that way. The other good thing about this method is that once one hyena arrives, others follow shortly.

My other project has been to collect fecal samples from antelope and other masai mara mammalian fauna (like elephants, mongoose, warthogs), which usually involves hanging out by a herd, waiting to see if an individual defecates, going towards that area (or what I thought was the area because my distance perception is flawed), and then spend a few minutes searching for the pellets amidst the tall grass! They blend in very well.

Sometimes we find them, sometimes we don’t! 

We’ll until next time! 

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