Thursday, July 30, 2015

"Being here"... finally!

     Well, hey there fellow hyena enthusiasts! The name’s Jared. I’m one of the new research assistants for the next year and my home camp is Talek. I’ve been here for just over a month now and golly gee it’s been beyond amazing. I’m a recent graduate of Kalamazoo “K” College having majored in Biology and minored in Psychology. I hail from Bay City, Michigan a quaint, welcoming town on the East side of the state. So how, you may ask, did I wind up in Kenya? Well, it’s my pleasure to tell you. Back during my sophomore year at K I was lucky enough to have taken Animal Behavior instructed by Dr. Anne Engh, a former researcher with the project, and she sparked and fueled my interest in Crocuta crocuta.  Since that life-changing course all things spotted hyena and the incomparable work of the project have absorbed me. Farfetched aspirations of being able to observe the fascinating creatures someday have consumed me ever since. This past Autumn I applied to the NSF-IRES program and by the grace of some higher power, here I sit today in the lab tent writing this post watching tiny butterflies of white, yellow, and orange hues flitter around with effortless whimsy. Needless to say, being here is a dream come true.

     Being here in the midst of such powerful and innovative research has cemented the journey I’ve always envisioned for myself as a research biologist. My interests in animal behavior, physiology, and morphology have consistently gravitated towards exploration of factors influencing individual variation in social populations. The multifaceted relationship between individuality and larger-scale population patterns within and among populations, such as social structure and population stability, genuinely saturates my mind daily with continuous thoughts and ponderings. Individuality as it applies to personality specifically motivates my interests. The thought of investigating the connections between individual variation of personality with individual variation in agonistic, affiliative, cognitive, dispersal, maternal, and sexual behaviors gets my neurons a’ firing. What better study organism then, than the spotted hyena? Come the time this year ends, which I am already dreading, I hope to pursue (fingers and toes crossed!) my Ph.D. in Animal Behavior. Through all that rambling I hope you have a sense of who I am, and hope to be, as a researcher. This year will undoubtedly allow me to develop my interests, and for that alone I am entirely grateful.

     Being here means I am blessed with the opportunity to observe hyenas every single day (at least so far, come rainy season that won’t hold true...). My first nights in the Mara were spent in Serena camp and I vividly recall my first official PM observations session locking eyes with a young sub-adult and feeling an insane rush of adrenaline and uncontainable enthusiasm. That’s how it is every obs session though, finding it hard to look away, tunnel vision on the chapter of the story that I’m witnessing develop right in front of my eyes. I’ve already grown an insatiable desire to learn all that I can about these magnificent beings and I am thrilled to be in this position.

Here I am during my first darting! It was surreal and I'll never forget it. Better yet, Kay was present; taking samples and measurements alongside her was absolutely incredible. I was able to name the hyena as he was outside of Talek territory and unknown to us. Ironically it was my little brother's birthday, so I dubbed this beautiful male Joshua on July 6, 2015. The first of many amazing darting experiences! 
     From waking up to the resident fruit bat every morning at 0430, to falling asleep to the distant whoops of hyenas, and every magical moment in between, life as an RA has been absolutely incredible but rightfully challenging so far. I couldn’t be more excited to see what happens with the Talek West clan over the course of these next eleven months and I am so grateful that I get to do so. This is the adventure of a lifetime and I thank you all for taking the time to read this blog. The thrills and wonders of spotted hyenas will not cease -- so until next time, this is Jared wishing you all well!


dee said...

DUDE! It's good to see the first month didn't dampen your enthusiasm
. I look forward to reading about what you are seeing and learning. Keep up the good work.

Unknown said...

savor every moment Jared! I am watching with great interest and just a bit of envy!

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