Thursday, March 24, 2016

How to Print a Hyena

The other day while updating the Serena clan lists, we discovered our study subjects had reached an impressive milestone: between the three clans, we counted a grand total of 202 hyenas studied by Serena Camp alone. This is thanks in no small part to the Great Wildebeest Migration. The huge herds provide a lot of food for hungry hyenas, and well-fed hyenas have a lot of babies. While we were delighted by the sudden influx of adorable black cubs romping around all of our dens, we’re even more delighted now they’re beginning to show spots. After weeks of writing “unIDcub” in all of our transcriptions, we can finally tell the youngest members of our clans apart.

Bonus to having a lot of cubs at the den: we get adorable photos like this!
In order to cement the new cubs’ place in the clans, we RAs have to undertake a tremendous task: photo printing. For days, we watch the cubs with eagle eyes, waiting to see them nurse so we can confirm their identities. Then we attempt to take clear pictures of their sides, so we can see their newly developed spots. These photos will become part of our essential photo ID books.

We then manipulate the photos on the computer, changing them to black and white and messing with things like exposure and contrast so their spots are shown to their best advantage.
The photos start like this...
And end up like this.
Next, we use an ultrasound printer to print a picture of each baby hyena’s side, which is labeled with its name, its sex, its mother’s name, and any ear damage it might acquire during its life.

The ultrasound printer uses light-sensitive paper to print its photos, so we don't have to worry about ink!
Finally, the photos get tucked away into one of our books, where we can whip it out whenever we are in doubt as to the identity of a given hyena.

This whole process occurs multiple times throughout each hyena’s life. As they grow, their spots shift and spread , so we continually take new photos of each hyena to ensure the pictures in our books are similar to how that hyena currently looks. While printing and organizing dozens of photos can be a bit of a chore, it’s worth every minute to have clear, readily-recognizable photos of each and every hyena.

1 comment:

EmilyThomas said...

Thank you so much for this amazing cub pile photo.

Definitely what this ex-Serena RA needed this morning


Michigan State University | College of Natural Science