Saturday, October 29, 2016

Intro to me, life at camp, and hyena phalluses (of course)

Hi everyone! My name is Morgan Lucot and I am the newest fisi research assistant. I am told that you all might want to get to know me a bit so here goes. I grew up in Ann Arbor and then defected to Michigan State University for college, where I received a degree in zoology. At MSU I was an undergraduate research assistant for the Mara Hyena Project for 2 years. I worked with David Green to identify large carnivores one year and with Kenna Lehmann on her vocalizations the next. During both years I completed small research projects of my own under the supervision of the grad students. The first project I worked with other undergrads to understand how hyenas utilize their territories. The second project I did alone to try and pick apart the context of a common vocalization, the giggle. If you are interested I can tell you more about them but I won’t go into any detail here.

This isn’t my first time in Kenya. After junior year of college, I went on the Behavior and Ecology of African Mammals (BEAM) study abroad that the lab offers. That trip introduced me to the lab and changed the course of my studies. I have been hoping to return to Kenya ever since that trip in 2014 and I really am so thrilled to be back!

I got to Kenya last Friday and spent about a week in Nairobi waiting for a car to get fixed. I finally made it down to the Mara on Saturday and have been here for only a couple days now. So far I am still settling in and getting adjusted to camp life. The hardest part to get used to is the sleep schedule. We go to bed fairly early, around 9pm, so that we can wake up at 5am to head out into the territory. I am slowly adjusting, though.

As for the hyenas, they are something else. There are a lot of cubs and subadults, which means a TON of fluff and fun. We are also expecting a few new babies and soon we will get to name some hyenas! 

So far my favorite little ones are two siblings named Hertz and Nano. They are super playful and love to lay around in little cub puddles, which makes them perfect for pictures and for feeling good in the morning. They are just now getting their spots, so we can tell them apart. Next we need to watch their behavior to see who is dominant (there is always a dominant sibling) as well as sex them. Let me tell you a little something about sexing baby hyenas: it's hard. The reason it can be so tricky is because both males and females have a phallus. That makes sexing a cub a little more difficult than taking a peek under their bellies. There is a small difference in the shape of the phallus tip on males and females, which can only really be seen when erect. We have to wait for an individual to display an erect phallus and then hopefully get a good view of the tip. This can be tricky, so we don’t determine sex until we have seen a cub’s erect phallus three separate times, and came to the same conclusion for all three occasions.

Hyena phalluses and cub sexing is not the only thing we worked on this week but as I am running out of space I’ll save the rest for later. Over all it has been a great first week in fisi camp!

P.S. sorry about the lack of pictures. The internet just was not fast enough this week and I didn’t time my post around market day. Sorry!

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