Thursday, June 3, 2021

Serena Clan Updates

Hi all,

The Mara has been truly wild lately – crocodiles at the den, puff adders in camp, and leopard sightings galore! And of course, lots of hyena drama 😊

CAPE (Capellini) and I had a little photoshoot last week.

North Clan

JARO and LIZ causing mischief at the den while there was no adult supervision.

In my mind, North Clan has always been our “stable” clan – during my time out here, we’ve never truly “lost” their communal den and we see most of the Northies on a regular basis. After almost two years at their Airstrip den, however, they finally moved to a new communal den… and it’s not been fun… Their old den was located right next to the Airstrip (so we could visit them even if it was wet/raining) and had great visibility. The new den is located right next to a marsh and surrounded by tall grass, making it really hard to see the hyenas sometimes. But, the new den did bring three little surprises: LNTL (Lentil Soup), YANA (Solyanka), and WOLF (Arctic Wolf).  LNTL and YANA both belong to SOUP; WOLF is NAGA’s first cub. *Disclaimer: any similarities between hyena names and researcher names is purely coincidental and it is also a pure coincidence that YANA is the daughter of the matriarch, and could thus be matriarch herself in the future 😉

On a sadder note, lions killed CLEV (Clever Girl), one of our mothers, close to the den last week. She left behind two cubs, LBRA and FIVE, who are unfortunately too small to be weaned. LBRA was still rather active the last time I stopped by the communal den, but Benson thinks that they’ll only be able to survive for two weeks without milk Generally, hyenas move dens when they are disturbed by lions (as lions will kill the cubs if given the chance), so I was surprised to see that they’re still hanging out at the same den. I was even more surprised when I showed up on Monday night to find some non-hyena visitors at the den as well. When I first pulled up, a small herd of elephants was happily munching on the plants next to the den. No problem! I just parked the Cruiser further away from the den and waited for them to move on. Once the herd was a safe distance from the den, I drove closer, only to discover a crocodile chilling right next to the den hole! The crocodile swiftly disappeared into the water right behind the den, but jeez! Fingers crossed that the hyenas finally take action now and move back towards the Airstrip.

South Clan

MCKY (Mickey Smith), the youngest resident of South's communal den (for now...).

South Clan has been rather uneventful since I found their den. After a week or so at Superstar Den, they moved a little further west to a nearby den (Superstar Den 2). The move was so small that I could easily see them from the original Superstar Den, so luckily no den hunting was required. All of the new cubs are now confirmed, and I’ve even seen a couple of the cubs (now subadults) from our original Summer 2019 cohort (including MPRS, CROM, JOJO, PDOX, and NOBL). Brian, the Conservancy manager, thinks that the migration will arrive in the Triangle within the next couple of weeks, so hopefully the hyenas will be more active once there is more prey available.

Frustrated Zebra Clan (formerly known as Happy Zebra Clan)

INFY (Infinity) hanging out at the edge of a buffalo herd.

Although I’m still den hunting (or more accurately put, waiting for the territory to dry up enough so that I can go den hunting again without getting the Cruiser stuck), I finally discovered the secret to guaranteed hyena sightings in Happy Zebra: buffalo herds. My current strategy is to scan the territory for big buffalo herds, drive to them, and scan along the perimeter of the herd. 9 times out of 10, at least 4+ hyenas will be lounging around the edge of the herd. My previous strategy of simply driving around the territory and willing hyenas into existence often resulted in 0 hyenas (1-2 if I’m lucky), so this new strategy is a huge improvement. And, to save the best for last, the Mara treated me to a *very* special sighting on Saturday night. Around 7pm, I found a buffalo herd that was crossing the main road – nice! I parked the Cruiser and patiently waited for the herd to cross as I knew that hyenas would soon follow behind. Sure enough, 4 hyenas crossed the road with the last couple of buffalo. I started photographing and IDing these hyenas when suddenly 4-5 females (potential mothers) and 6 (!!!) cubs all showed up from the same direction within 5 minutes! Now, this was exciting for two reasons: 1. These were the first Happy Zebra cubs I’ve seen since coming back out here in February and 2. This means that the communal den *has* to be close to where I was parked. Unfortunately, I’m still den hunting the area they came from, but I have a feeling that I might find them before I leave for my vacation at the end of this week (or by the end of June at the latest hopefully). On a different note, LANC was one of the females who showed up, and I was able to confirm that she is not the new matriarch (I saw her appeasing to BARD, one of PIKE’s younger daughters). I still think that EREM may have a shot at being the new matriarch, but I’m also tossing RUMG (one of PIKE’s granddaughters) and SNAP (PIKE’s littermate) into the ring. Stay tuned for more updates soon!

This week's sightings:

Puff adder crossing the road.
Something doesn't quite belong here.
YPSI (Ypsilante), one of our older North males, poses for me while patrolling the territory
Bath time
Great leopard sighting in South territory
Mara traffic
Elephant party
Cute giraffe
Bath time, part 2
Verreaux's Eagle Owl
SQSH is spending a lot of time at the den with his younger siblings, LNTL and YANA
Not a big fan of lions right now, but this is too picturesque not to post
How tall is the grass? Tall enough to almost hide two elephant babies!
Incredible serval sighting with some visitors last week!
Sometimes, you have to stop and smell the roses...
...and sometimes you just have to eat the roses.
Can you spot LBRA? Not pictured: the crocodile hanging out right by the den hole.
Game drives with Brian always mean up-close and personal encounters with elephants.

Tuesday, May 25, 2021

Michigan State University VIRTUAL Science Festival!

Here at the hyena lab, we look forward to Michigan State University's Science Festival every year. We get to play around with skulls, talk about hyenas, and share our enthusiasm for research with the public. This year things looked a little different, as MSU had its first-ever virtual SciFest! At first we weren’t quite sure how we would recreate the feeling of an in-person booth through our computer screens, but graduate student Olivia Spagnuolo stepped up to make sure this year’s SciFest felt just as engaging from home.

If you missed us at MSU SciFest, catch Olivia’s talk here on her Youtube channel! Be sure to check out our spot-matching game, too, which Olivia adapted virtually for the Festival. Test your skills identifying individual hyenas (just like our researchers do in the field!).



Wednesday, May 19, 2021


Hi all, 
One of the best selling points of the Mara is its sheer amount of biodiversity: with 60+ mammal species, 470+ bird species, and 30+ amphibian/reptile species (numbers from Mara Triangle), the Mara surely has something for everyone. I was lucky enough to participate in the Global Big Day last weekend: Stratton and his friend, Pete, invited me to tag along with them as they attempted to find as many different birds as possible in the Triangle. Unlike me, Stratton and Pete are some serious birders, so we managed to see/hear 196 species in a single day. My one and only contribution to this list? The secretary bird… hey, better than nothing! Below is just a small selection of birds I’ve seen during my time in the Mara – a big thank you to Brian, Lila, Matthew, and Stratton for helping me ID them all.
Secretary Bird - easy to spot, even easier to ID :)
White-faced Whistling Duck
Grey Crowned Crane
Egyptian Goose
Juvenile Dark-chanting Goshawk
Black-chested Snake-Eagle
Rosy-breasted Longclaw
Spur-winged Lapwing
Rufous-naped Lark
White-browed Robin-chat
European Roller
Black Coucal
Speckled Mousebird
Pied Kingfisher
Sooty Chat
Striped Kingfisher
Southern Ground-hornbill
Hybrid Blacksmith/Spur-winged lapwing
African Marsh Harrier
Martial Eagle
Lilac-breasted Roller
Black-bellied Bustard
Yellow-billed Stork
White-bellied Canary
Rufous-chested Swallow
Hooded Vultures
African Grey Hornbills
Yellow-throated Longclaw
Grey-headed Kingfisher
Black-shouldered Kite
Malachite Kingfisher
Red-collared Widowbird
Red-billed Firefinch
Black-headed Weaver
Sacred Ibis
Grey-backed Fiscal
African White-backed Vulture (front) and Ruppell's Griffon Vulture (back)
Pin-tailed Whydah
Greater Painted Snipe
Great Spotted Cuckoo
Rufous-bellied Heron
Black-lored Babbler
Spotted Thick-knee
Tawny Eagle
Superb Starling
Juvenile African Fish-Eagle

Michigan State University | College of Natural Science