Thursday, August 5, 2010

Super MOM!! A mongoose rescue

Yesterday, I was sitting at the lab tent table, minding my own business, eating lunch. All of a sudden, I saw something streak by a meter away from me. It was obviously our resident slender mongoose but it was carrying a large ball of some sort. I immediately thought she was carrying a baby and got very excited to have her reproducing but, by this time, she was long gone so I went back to eating. Until I began to hear a strange noise, coming from the bushes that the mongoose had run out from. It was a noise I had never heard before, so I went to investigate. Lo and behold! I found this little guy!
He was sitting there calling for his mom incessantly.
I kept an eye on him and sure enough, Mom came dashing to the rescue!
She picked him up,
and whisked him away to safety!

Wednesday, August 4, 2010

New Neighbors

There’s often debate among the Fisi Camp researchers as to which camp, Talek or Serena, is best. While I won’t get into the specific pros and cons of each, I do think that a lion family looking to move into camp must reflect the desirability of that particular camp. Such is the case with Serena.

It all started yesterday around noon. I was sitting at our dining table just in front of the lab tent, doing some light reading, when I heard the snorting of impala out on the plain just below camp. No big deal. A few minutes later I saw, out of the corner of my eye, the long, tan legs of an animal strolling into camp about 35m away from me. My first thought was that an impala had wandered into camp, which would make it the first I had ever seen actually IN camp. Taking a closer look, I noticed very large paws and a long, swishing tail. Not an impala, but a full-grown female lion. Not quite the same thing.

She came to a stop about 22m from me and, looking at me the whole time, half sat down in a way not unlike a housecat that’s preparing to spring upon an unsuspecting toy. Perhaps I was this lion’s unsuspecting toy. She continued to stare at me while I sat there wondering what options I had (not many). At the time there was only one other person in camp, Moses, one of our all-purpose staff guys. Luckily, he was sitting down at the kitchen tent, so I called out to him, “Moses? SIMBA.” Yes, just like in “The Lion King”, “simba” really means “lion” in Swahili. Moses, previously unaware of the situation, crouched down and peered around the corner of the kitchen tent and saw the lion. “Ah, she is hunting.” Not shocking, but not the words I hoped to hear from him.

Hearing Moses, the lion turned her gaze from me and looked in his direction. Then back at me. I was just preparing to slowly stand and back into the lab tent when she stood up, turned, and walked out of camp the way she had come. Crisis averted…

Around 5:30pm yesterday I was again doing some light reading at the lab tent while Moses did the same down at the kitchen tent. Needing a break, I stood up and walked to the rocks near the fire pit (just in front of the lab tent also) to have a look out onto the plain. Suddenly, I heard Moses say, “LION, LION” in a loud whisper. I ducked down and looked to see the same female walking past the kitchen tent just 5m from Moses. She walked around the tent, skirted the brush at the edge of camp (just 20m from me), and paused to lie down and stretch at the storage tent before leaving camp through the brush again. Not good to have a lion hanging around/in camp for the day.

After two close encounters I was a little disappointed to have not been able to take any photos. At the same time, I didn’t want to be one of those people you’d read about in the news who watched through the lens as a lion ran up and put the hurt on me. But, as you’ll see, I was able to get a few photos after all (otherwise this would just be a long, boring story for you all).

I reached the safety of my tent trouble-free last night and slept soundly, as usual. I awoke this morning, around 6:45am, to the sound of light footsteps on the leaves near my tent. As a group of dik diks likes to sleep in camp at night, I naturally assumed it was one of them. Since it was close, I decided to sit up and have a good look at it out my window. Again I was fooled. It was not a dik dik, but the same female lion, walking just 5m from my tent. This time she was trailed by two small cubs. The three of them circled my tent, just 2-3m away the whole time, and then started to walk back to the woods at the edge of camp. As they were walking away the female caught the sound of Moses unzipping his tent and she paused, growling. She stared Moses down in obvious maternal defense mode. Like yesterday, Moses crouched down behind the tent. The female and one cub continued walking to the edge of camp, where she again stopped to stare at Moses. At the same time, on the opposite side of the tent, I heard a high-pitched squeak. I went to the window and looked, and there was the second little cub, apparently lost and calling for its mom. After about 10 seconds the cub regained its wits and ran around my tent and off to reunite with its mom. Together again, the three of them walked into the woods and away from the tents.

It’s been 2 hours now without seeing them, but it’s a safe bet that they’re not far. I’ll certainly be taking great care not to get myself between mom and cub as I walk around camp today. It’s funny to think though, as I look out onto the plain, off all the tourists driving endlessly in search of lions (they always want to see lions and cheetahs) when we’re here in camp and the lions come right to us (whether we like it or not).

Sorry for the long-windedness, but I hope the photos make up for it. I apologize for the quality; they were shot through my window screen and I was not about to step out of my tent for a better shot.

Sunday, August 1, 2010

Hyena Playtime

A few weeks ago, just as the migration was starting to show up, the hyenas worked themselves up into a bit of a frenzy for a few days. We had some crazy mornings with 2-3 kills a morning and some massive border patrols. One morning, we were out for our usual morning obs and came across a few hyenas in the morning darkness. We followed them and realized we had our work cut out for us when they joined a group of thirty hyenas. We automatically assumed that they were gearing up for another border patrol. As the sun came up and I mentally prepared myself for a difficult morning of data collection, the hyenas began trailing off in a line in typical border patrol fashion. They crossed the nearby lugga, began social sniffing and pasting all over the place, and then, much to my surprise, crossed the lugga again, went right back to where they had started, and began sacking out. A few hyenas seemed interested in a herd of zebra and some even made a few convincing lunges but, before we knew it, they were all play romping.

Usually play romping is done by cubs at the den so we were pretty surprised to see subadults and adults running around acting like children. The sheer number of hyenas playing was impressive to see. Even our oldest hyena, Navajo, got in on the play time.

Michigan State University | College of Natural Science