Saturday, November 29, 2014

Memories of Fisi Thanksgiving Gratitude

Throughout the day yesterday, here in the States, I couldn’t help but think about (and miss) what Thanksgiving had been last year, in the field. It was very different in many ways, but more importantly, it was heartwarmingly similar in all the most important ways.

We had pumpkin pie making…or rather, ‘pumpkin pie themed dessert experimenting’. It was a great moment of field improvisation.
·      No pie pan? No problem, grab the square pan.
·      No butter? Worry not – we have the Vitamin A Enriched Medium Fat Spread lovingly known as BlueBand.
·      No pumpkin? When you have butternut squash, who cares?
·      No measuring cups? Who wants to be that predictable?
Jackson and Julie making our butternut squash pie

Julie and Hadley cutting out the designs to top the pie.

The most memorable part of the pie was a crust cut-out of Navajo’s head, to celebrate her then recently passed 21st birthday…you don’t see that on most pumpkin pies in the States.

We had fresh baked bread…that we would have broken together if the monkeys hadn’t gotten to it first.

We had an abundance of friends gathered – around the kitchen (of course, isn’t it always the social hub of the ‘house’?)

Most importantly, we had family, and what more could you ask for on a holiday? We had a shared meal, dancing, and even ‘home videos’ of impersonations done by Benson and Wilson.

Pre-feast dancing (Photo: Julie Turner)
Watching home videos at Thanksgiving (Photo: Julie Turner)
Looking back on my Thanksgiving last year, I remember so distinctly the feeling of being home, surrounded by friends, and overflowing gratitude. This year, as I gave thanks, the guys at our camp, and our whole Fisi family were high on my list – for keeping us alive over the year, for feeding us and keeping camp maintained, and for being our family, for making camp a home in which we could celebrate and experience the joy of the holiday seasons.

P.S. Our hyenas didn’t miss Thanksgiving either, however; when you have an animal that can eat 1/3 of its body weight in a single feeding, the post-feast experience is impressively more rotund.

Peebles, obese (Photo: Phoebe Parker-Shames)

Wednesday, November 26, 2014

A Fisi Thanksgiving

With Thanksgiving steadily approaching the researchers here at Fisi camp have begun to think about their favorite holiday meals. Turkey was sure to be number one on the list for everyone (well everyone except for me that is being I am the only vegetarian here in camp). Followed by turkey came sweet potatoes, stuffing, and mac&cheese. Mouths watering we quickly wrote down the list of items we would need for each delicious recipe. 

It seemed however that they hyenas decided to start their thanksgiving early. For Tilt and Decimeter a  strong wildebeest stood in the place of a turkey.
 Decimeter enjoying a nice and hearty meal.

While Tilt and Decimeter seem to lack a bit of table manners Im sure their meal was scrumptious none the less!

Decimeter decided to have some holiday spirit and share her delicious meal with her fellow Talek West clan member Tilt.

Thanksgiving is sure to be a time filled with food, fun, and laughs. We here at Fisi camp hope your Thanksgiving will be memorable and enjoyable.

Happy Thanksgiving!

Monday, November 24, 2014


Hyenas enjoy a number of things that are traditionally considered unenjoyable.  One of the things they take the most surprising amount of enjoyment in is vomit.  We frequently see hyenas vomiting around dens and kills.  Inevitably, when one hyena vomits, a number of other hyenas will rush at the opportunity to roll in that vomit.  Cubs, subs, adults - it doesn’t matter - they all want to rub as much of that chunky goodness as possible into their previously spotless coats.  I’ve seen cubs try to shoulder out adults (usually ineffective due to basic laws of physics).  I’ve seen cubs that were play romping together a minute before whip out some just-plain-rude aggressions to secure priority access to the best vomit.  I’ve seen cranky, old females that hate our car and hate getting up for anyone, run at full speed towards the vomit and excitedly slide into it, as if sliding into a very stinky home plate.

Given how excited hyenas get about vomit, you can imagine how pleased I was to incidentally record the sounds of a hyena vomiting.  I know it’s not pretty birds or alluring hyena whoops, but try, if you can, to enjoy this noise the way a hyena would.

Friday, November 21, 2014

Food Caching

            A few months ago, as Sarah, Philomen, and I were driving around North Territory, we happened upon one of our lower ranking moms, INK, feeding on a fresh Thomson’s gazelle carcass. Most of the organs and meat were already finished, and INK was slowing down a little. Spotted hyenas get their reputation as scavengers from the fact that they eat almost every part of an animal, including bones, hair, and teeth. With plenty of delicious bones and hair left, INK was not ready to give up the gazelle. As we watched, she looked around suspiciously, picked up the rest of the carcass and carried it into a nearby buffalo wallow. She waded into the water and dropped the carcass. She then spent a few minutes paddling around, looking nonchalant, as if to prove to any spying scavengers that she was merely enjoying a bath, and there was nothing to see here. After about ten minutes, she emerged from her bath, muddier than when she entered it, and walked away.

INK, trying to decide whether this gazelle will be better as leftovers
 Photo: Sarah Jones 
             This behavior, called food caching, is exciting because we don't get to see it very often. Spotted hyenas often store food scraps and leftovers in water or in bushes, and return later to finish up. Because they try to stash their food a little sneakily, it's hard for us researchers to catch them at it. Storing their scraps under water minimizes the smell, and helps ensure that no one else will come along and eat their leftovers without their permisson, a problem I am sure we can all relate to.

INK surreptitiously stashing the carcass
Photo: Sarah Jones
               According to Este's Behavior Guide to African Mammals, a hyena can eat up to 1/3 of its own weight (a worthy goal for everyone at Thanksgiving this year). The Kingdon Field Guide to African Mammals reports that hyenas can eat 13kg in one go, almost 29 lbs. While that is impressive, even INK couldn't finish a Thomson's in one sitting.

INK pretending there is absolutely nothing stashed in that wallow
Photo: Sarah Jones
Just the other day, we saw ARRO carry a tasty scrap of skin and hair into a wallow, hang out with it there for a while, and carry it away again.

ARRO, innocently pretending that she has no food to hide

and trying to decide if our car is going to try to steal her scrap.
ARRO looking around for hyenas who might try to get in on that tasty chunk of soggy skin

First, she decided that she should enjoy her bath and her snack at the same time

But on second thought, decided that we were staring too hard at her snack

So she carried her food off into the sunrise.

Wednesday, November 19, 2014

Kids do the darndest things

The other day in the Serena North clan, we had time to watch an adorable group of cubs and subs playing together.  Scientifically, play behavior is interesting because it expends valuable energy, and yet does not immediately benefit the individuals involved.  Personally, I think romping and social play is one of our spotted hyenas’ cutest activities.  This time, we got to see a special kind of play behavior…cubs playing with elephant dung!

Shoot Her chasing Uzi, who avoids capture
Shoot Her really wants a piece of that dung!
Clever Girl play-mounting Ramone, dung momentarily forgotten
Clever Girl decides to cool off with a dip in the pond
A soaking wet Clever Girl, getting ready to shake it out
Uzi, Jude, and Ramone playing tug-of-war with the elephant dung
First one out: Jude!
Uzi wins the tug-of-war and
comes to show us his prize

Monday, November 17, 2014

A Warthog's Afternoon Snack

Just the other day I learned something new about warthogs. We were watching CTEN devouring a baby Impala with GOFA and two black-backed jackals looking on. It was a typical carcass scene, with CTEN crunching away happily and the two jackals sneaking in and stealing bits here and there when CTEN was too distracted to chase them off.  I was admiring the already shapely bulge of CTEN’s belly when a warthog entered the scene. If you’ve seen my previous posts, you’ve seen the video of a warthog chasing hyenas around at the den. Knowing that hyenas are wary of warthogs, I wasn’t too surprised to see a warthog startle CTEN and get her to warily move off the kill. I was quite shocked, however, when the warthog itself began to eat the carcass! It spent some time licking blood and rumen off the ground before beginning to nibble on the carcass and drag it around. CTEN looked as shocked as I felt, as if she couldn’t decide if she wanted to run in and lunge at the warthog or keep a safe distance.  The black-backed jackals, true to their aggressive reputation, were much less wary. One of them ran up and bit the warthog on the back of the leg! I hope you guys enjoy the video. You will even get to see some bonus aggressions between CTEN and GOFA at the end. Fat CTEN was not going to let GOFA have one bite!

Friday, November 14, 2014

Happy Birthday Navajo

In a recent turn of events, I gained another year of life and welcomed my 23rd birthday. This of course was a momentous day filled with hyena observations, feasting, and, of course, dancing.

Such a day usually gives way to natural reminiscing and life ponderings such as: am I an adult now? What is my purpose? Why is all the cake gone?

However, the day before my womb emergence anniversary, November 7th warranted a more deserving birthday celebration. That of Navajo, the world’s oldest recorded living wild hyena. She turned twenty-two, just one year younger than myself. Although we may be similar in age, Navajo was probably asking quite different questions; for example:

How did I get here?

Check out those beaten ears! Navajo relaxes on her birthday 2014.

Who are these strange people looking at me from a car?

Navajo staring inquisitively at the car in 2008. Photo: Audrey DW

And most importantly, where have all the wildebeest gone?

A sleepy and dirty Navajo appears perplexed in 2006. Photo: Jaime Tanner

I’ve pooled past researchers/grad-students/RAs/etc. (thank you Tracy Montgomery for the facebook post and all those who sent in pictures) and they were able to send me some pretty dashing pictures of the ol’ girl. Strangely enough, she has looked relatively the same for the past six years.

Navajo on her 21st birthday last year. Photo: Julie Turner

Although we share the same birthday, Navajo and I have made quite different life choices. I chose to pursue an education in biology at a university, Navajo was mostly home/field-schooled and utilized independent learning. I have only seen the U.S. presidents in pictures/videos and history books, Navajo gave birth to a whole lineage of them (Obama, Roosevelt, Carter, Reagan, etc.) Additionally, I’ve always preferred my steak medium-rare, whereas Navajo tends to eat her meals while the animal is still alive.

But, we do have one similarity, we were probably both nursing around the same time.

In a lucky chance encounter, Navajo appeared and gave us her classic stare on the morning of her birthday November 7th, 2014. Photo: Chase O'Neil

Between January 1993 and December 2011, Navajo has been observed in 3541 of our research sessions (from Amiyaal Liany.) At this point, I can’t imagine Talek West without her omnipresence. So with that, happy birthday to Navajo.

Navajo gnawing on a carcass in July 2014. Photo: Chase O'Neil 

Unfortunately, I have not seen Navajo around a lot and thus have not collected many stories. So please feel free to include fun Navajo memories in the comment section!

Monday, November 10, 2014

Serena’s New Moms…and a buffalo

A hefty congratulations is in order to October / September mothers:

Happy Zebra Clan
Log Cabin
Lineage: Seinfeld characters
Meet: Soup Nazi 
DOB: Oct 3

Lineage: Card games
Meet: Rat Slap and Old Maid
DOB: Sep 4

Lineage: Spiders
Meet: Recluse and Long Leg
DOB: Oct 8

South Clan
* Palazzo
Lineage: Dr. Seuss
Meet: Lorax and Thneids
DOB: Sep 23

* Rastapopulaos
Lineage: Hair Styles
Meet Bouffant and Pony
DOB: Sep 23

KOMO: Spaceships
Meet: 2x not yet named
 DOB: Sep18

Lineage: Dr Who Characters
 Meet: 1 not yet named (top nursing mother)
 DOB: unkown

Lineage: Racehorses
Meet: 2 suspected cubs (the two cubs in the the hole)
DOB: unkown

The following girls have not nursed their young in front of us, but they have been hanging around natal dens. We suspect they have given birth recently. We have some names we might use already:

Lineage: Dragons
Puff and Smaug

* Terodactyl
Lineage: Whales
Norwal and Orca

It is arguably one of the most exciting camp chores to age and name new cubs. A lineage consists of all the cubs born from a particular mother. Lineages are somewhat difficult to name as one wants a lineage in which is broad enough for many names to be invented down the road but not broad enough that it is difficult to understand who belongs to whose lineage. Those delineated with * are lineages Molly and myself had the privilege to name as they are first time mothers.

If you have any name suggestions for babies "not yet named" we are open to them! Please comment below your favorite Dr. Who Characters and Race Horses.

Also! Randomness. As I wrote this blog, this little buffalo charged us in camp:

                           "Why are you so bloody?"

                                 Photo by Molly

Michigan State University | College of Natural Science