Sunday, May 11, 2014

Aftermath of the poisoning

In some ways, the aftermath of the poisonings has been even harder than the event itself. We knew beforehand that we wouldn’t be able to find all the bodies, but it has been taxing to keep a daily tally of who we have and haven’t seen since the poisoning. The first time we see a hyena is a tremendous relief, but as the days have worn on and we still haven’t seen many members of the clan, it’s beginning to set in that we have lost a large number of animals.

We now suspect that the poison claimed the lives of at least 19 hyenas, and there are several more that we still haven’t seen but we think (or hope) probably weren’t in the area at the time. Among the ones that we’re now fairly convinced are dead are Crimson, yet another new mother who was a consistent presence at the den; Argon, an older, low ranking mother, and the sister of Xenon; Loki, a higher ranking oddball female; Galapagos, the reigning princess of the clan, and one of my favorite hyenas because I’ve watched her come into her rank just during the time that I’ve been here; Wellington, the high ranking immigrant male whom we joked was “married” to the alpha Helios because he always followed her around; and Mork, another immigrant male with striking spots and a slightly goofy disposition.

At this point, it seems very clear that whoever was responsible for the poisonings will never be caught. Whether this is because of a lack of resources and expertise, or simply a lack of interest, I don’t know. The high expectations I had after the professional KWS post-mortem have fizzled by now, and it leaves me feeling even more dejected about the whole situation.

Part of what makes the poisoning event hard to cope with is that it is so emblematic of the deep problems in this area. While I still think poisoning a carcass shows an unforgivable level of stupidity, I can understand the reasons why a herder would do it. Especially after traveling around Kenya a little more, I can see that this community along the reserve is probably worse off than a lot of other areas in the country. And right now, people are struggling even harder than normal because the rainy season that was supposed to support crops and livestock is extremely late. The bottom line is that the local community receives too little benefit from the reserve for them to see the value in protecting wildlife.

Understanding part of why the poisoning happened doesn’t make it less difficult to deal with, however. The hardest part for me has been the repercussions of all of the mothers that were killed. Hyena cubs rely on their mother to nurse them, to help them learn their rank, help them find food, and protect them at carcass sessions until they are about three years old. There is a huge amount of maternal investment involved with raising a cub, which may be why it is extremely unusual for another mother to help raise a cub that isn’t hers. This means that without their moms, the cubs whose mothers were poisoned have been slowly starving to death, and it takes them much longer to die than I would have expected. Instead, we have watched them get slowly more and more lethargic and skinny. While their peers with living mothers play and run around the den, they just sit there and waste away. Lazy and Rage, Argon’s cubs, even got abandoned at the old den site and simply spend their days huddled against each other, waiting for a mother that will never come back. Each day we expect to find some of them dead, but they only look skinnier. It’s likely that they will crawl into the den before they finally die, so we may never find their bodies either.
Starving cubs by the den

Crimson’s cub Cyberman is the only one that seems at all likely to survive. She is fighting so hard to stay alive that it both breaks my heart and gives me a small spark of hope. She is still so small, but we’ve seen her following adult hyenas very far from the den to join in carcass sessions. Her best trick yet, however, seems to be annoying Ted into nursing her. Ted is another young mother with just one cub (we think she originally had two but lost one early on), and through sheer obnoxious tenacity, Cyberman has been managing to nurse fairly regularly from her. She will follow Ted around and squitter constantly (a squitter is an obnoxious, squealing noise that a cub makes when it’s hungry), essentially ensuring that Ted will get no peace unless she allows Cyberman to nurse too. I don’t know if it will be enough to help her survive all the way to adulthood, but her will to live is so strong that if any of our orphans can do it, she’s the one.

Cyberman squittering at Ted


dee said...

Thank you for posting. The news is so disturbing. I can't begin to imagine how difficult this for all of you out there. I try and remember that the cubs can't anticipate what is happening or what is likely to happen and that they don't have a time sense like ours but it is so hard not anthropomorphize the hell out of the situation, at least for me. I am in awe of the way you all are handling this most dreadful disaster. Please keep us posted and take care of yourselves.

Laurena said...

This news couldn't be more sad and heartbreaking. When I was in the Mara in March, staying at Mara Serena, I took a huge number of photos of a nearby den. The cubs were so cute. I have no idea of which ones I have photographs of but they were all wonderful animals. I am returning again in October and will be part of the time here and also additional days on the Talek side. My biggest wish is that they will find whoever is responsible for this.

Unknown said...

It's heart breaking to read this and to hear so many of the hyenas we've studied have been killed. I watched LINK AND NAVI starve at the den when DION died and it was one of the hardest things to see.

Please let know if Rebmann and Xena are still alive? Also, how about Foxtrot? He was such a trooper when his Mum died and he ended up surviving.

Really feel for you guys.

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