Friday, December 23, 2016

Jame's rescue and my first darting!

As hyena researchers, we devote our time and full attention to the clans we study. Our families are far away; our new family is here in fisi camp and includes the hyenas. It is a given that we spend A LOT of time with our hyenas. We watch them for 6-8 hours a day, every day. Back in camp, we spend the rest of our afternoon writing and thinking about them. So, when one of our hyenas is suffering, it makes the watching hard.

When I arrived 2 months ago, a subadult named Jame was injured. He had a snare around his neck. Snares are sometimes used by people hoping to catch bush meat, or by home owners protecting the bomas, the corrals where livestock are sheltered.  When Jame was first seen 6 months ago, he already had one of these snares around his neck. We estimated that he was around a year old at that first sighting. This means for a third or more of Jame’s life, he has experienced regular pain and difficulties in some normal daily activities, for example while grooming or bending to drink water. As he grew, the snare became tighter and tighter. It cut deeply into his neck, and everyone was surprised each time we saw him alive. We waited as Jame’s condition deteriorated, hoping that this was a rare instance where we could intervene. Jame would need to be darted to remove the snare and save his life.

Jame first seen with the snare around his neck.
I had never seen a darting, and understood it to be a potentially stressful event for us and the hyenas. The conditions have to be just right. The individual needs to be separated from the rest of the clan. And it is also important that the individual be close to the car, to ensure accuracy from the shooter. Fortunately, we have Benson. Benson Pion holds one of the best (if not THE best) darting records in mammalogy labs today. He has darted nearly 100 hyenas, and none of his dartings have resulted in injury to the animal. I had every confidence that Benson could be successful.

We were instructed to wait for Kay, and when she finally arrived we all immediately set out to find and dart Jame. One of Kay's first days out, they found Jame. Everyone was on edge waiting for a call saying his snare had been removed. Unfortunately that day the conditions were not right. Jame was skittish of the car (and everything else too) and they could not get close enough to take the shot. We were all feeling pretty down, wondering if we would get another chance, or if we would have to watch as Jame slowly died. But the very next day we found him again. That day both of our research cars were on the site. Benson and Kay in the smaller (and hopefully less scary) car. Meanwhile, Lily, Rebecca, and I waited anxiously in the bigger cruiser. We saw the gun slide out the window, and a dart fly from its end into Jame. He reeled and bit at the spot, before starting to slow down. He became visibly more drunk, until he finally lay down, he was out. 

Kay and Benson working to remove
the snare.

YES! We were so relieved! Jame was down and we rushed up and carefully but quickly cut the snare loose. The wire had cut very deeply into his neck, and kept the wound fresh. When we removed it we were shocked by how small the noose was, and again we were all surprised by Jame's resilience. Once the wire was removed we coated his neck with antibacterial powder, took a few samples that were quick and noninvasive, and loaded him into the back of the car. Then he was taken to a safe spot, hidden in the bushes to wake up. Lily and I, a little shaken up, continued our obs session. All any of us could do now was to wait and see if he healed without infection.
The snare diameter was surprisingly small.

Benson takes skull measurements after we applied the white antibacterial powder.
Over the course of 10 days or so, we saw Jame twice. Once the night after the snare was removed, when we went to check on his hiding place. Then once again today! We are really happy to report that Jame is looking healthy and he appears to be healing well! 

Jame seen on the 22nd of December with a healing wound!

It was a fairly emotional first darting, but we are all really pleased with the results. And of course, Benson continues to grow his list of successful dartings!

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