Tuesday, March 27, 2018


I am Maggie, one of the new grad students in the field. I am in my third year of graduate school and have come to the field to collect some of the data I need. I arrived in Kenya in early March with Connie and Allie, and unfortunately, we seem to have brought the rains with us! It has been a rainy month, which has kept us in camp. This has given me time to ease my way back into camp life and (of course!) be stressed about my research. 

I was a Serena RA (research assistant) a few years ago, so much of camp life and the research is quite familiar. My ABSOLUTE favorite part about being back is seeing the hyenas I knew when I was here last time. Many of the cubs are now grown up with their own cubs!!!! 

Here are a few of my youngsters from last time that I have seen again!!! I can't wait to get out and see more of them!
Born (short for Borneo) was a recently graduated cub when I left. Now he is huge and is working on dispersing!

Snug (short for Silver Nugget) was a little black cub when I left. Now look at her!

Onekama was a young immigrant male with gorgeous spots. Look at those spots! 
Now look at him! Those spots are fading...

Seeing my old friends has been wonderful! I can't wait to see more of them in the coming weeks!!!!!!

Monday, March 26, 2018

Hello, everyone! My name is Connie Rojas and I am one of the graduate students in the Holekamp lab! It has been a little over two weeks since I arrived in Kenya and I am feeling a lot of emotions. Fortunate to be here, in the Maasai Mara National Reserve, observing hyenas, and all of the other cool wildlife! Nervous about starting my field project since time seems to evaporate and things never go as planned. Excited to keep receiving my field training! I am getting better at driving our stick-shift land cruisers in the Mara, identifying hyenas, and knowing my way (I have no sense of direction). I am sad that my family is so far away and that they will not get to visit and experience all of what I am experiencing. Time here is precious, and I will try to get the most out of it!

A little bit about me. I was born in Los Angeles, CA, grew up in rural, Southern Mexico, and returned to LA when I was 9 years old. I resided in LA for all of middle school and high school, and later attended Wellesley College in MA, where I received my B.A. in Biological Sciences and Psychology. I am a mixture of a cellular biologist and an ecologist, as most of my courses in undergrad were in molecular biology, but in my summers, I travelled internationally to conduct field work. After graduating, I spent close to a year following rhesus macaques up and down cliffs in Cayo Santiago, PR.  I found their behavior and social interactions fascinating, and decided that for graduate school, I also wanted to study a complex, social species like these Old World monkeys. And here I am, a 3rd year PhD Student in Dr. Kay Holekamp’s behavioral ecology lab! Like my training, my research has both a molecular lab work and a field work component, and now, even a computational biology/bioinformatics component! Yay! I study host-microbe interactions, and the ways hyenas and their symbiotic microbes are affecting each other. I believe microbes are performing critical functions for hyenas; I just need to characterize them.

I am here in the Mara for 4 more months for my field season and have 3 exciting projects I am pursuing. One investigates how microbial communities change across different stages of meat decomposition, in the savannah! This is such a fun job for someone who has an irrational fear of all things worm-like, but thankfully, I am slowly overcoming this fear. Another project involves the collection of fecal samples from many of the animals here in Mara, not just hyenas, to explore the forces that structure gut microbial communities in the wild. Is it diet, is it their host’s evolutionary history, or is it something else? The last project is my main field project, which evaluates the type of information hyenas are obtaining from the scent gland secretions of other hyenas. The goal is to present adult female hyenas with the secretions of two strangers (i.e. an immigrant male & adult female), and document how long they spend sniffing each specimen. If hyenas spend a differential amount of time sniffing the samples, this indicates that scent gland secretions are indeed encoding different information. I moving to Serena camp and starting this project next month; wish me luck!

When I am not going on observations (so fun!!), collecting feces, or “working” on my dissertation research/data analysis, I am reading (Dee, I borrowed your ‘Walking with the Great Apes’ book but promise to leave it here for Kay), obsessively posting pictures on my Instagram, and trying to help to the RAs with whatever they need =) I am having a great time, and looking forward to building more memories!

Until next time!

Tuesday, March 20, 2018

Back in the Mara!

Hi everyone!

            My name is Allie and I am the newest RA to Talek Fisi Camp! I graduated from Michigan State University in 2016 with a degree in Zoology, and I am yet another one of the RAs who got their start here from BEAM! I studied abroad on the 2014 BEAM trip, and ever since I’ve been wanting to come back! During my undergrad experience I volunteered in the hyena lab, working for grad student Julie Turner on boldness and personality data collection. I loved how interesting and different the hyenas were, and come graduation I was sad to have to leave the lab behind.  

            After graduation, I spent some time as a primate research intern for the Dian Fossey Gorilla Fund International, studying gorillas and orangutans and all aspects of their behavior. Following that I spent a summer helping to conserve the threatened Utah prairie dog. I never forgot how much I loved the hyenas though, and here I am again in the field getting the chance to work with them!

            I’ve been in the Mara for about two weeks now, and unfortunately I arrived just in time for the rainy season. We do not go out on observations when it rains too much for fear of getting the car stuck in the mud and damaging the beautiful Mara, so I’ve been biding my time in camp and learning all I can here! That generally consists of quizzing myself on hyena relatedness and clan membership, but hopefully soon I’ll be able to get out and start really doing the job I was sent here for! I’m very excited to begin the year here, and I look forward to the adventures to come! 

Thursday, March 15, 2018

Martials in the Mara

In addition to our beloved hyenas, we see a few other creatures around the grasslands.

A month ago, I witnessed a Martial Eagle defend her recently-killed meal of a White Stork from a pair of Grey Crowned Cranes. I passed the video onto the Maasai Mara Martial Eagle Project, where I learned this behavior is very unusual, and it was likely the cranes had a nest nearby. It is always fun to witness new behaviors, even if they aren't preformed by our hyenas!

Tuesday, March 6, 2018

Miss/Mr Mara

From some of my recent photos, I have chosen 11 contestants for the Miss/Mr Mara beauty pageant.  Lets meet them! 

MGTA (Magenta) 
      Clan: Main Doc
      Sex: female 
      Age: Adult with cubs

RPRT (Rupert) 
      Clan: KCM
      Sex: unk 
      Age: Subadult 

TWST (Twister) 
       Clan: Main DOC 
       Sex: Female 
       Age: adult with cubs

LORD (lord of the dance)
      Clan:Main DOC
       Sex: male 
      Age: subadult

EMRA (emerald)
       Clan: Main DOC 
        Sex: male 
        Age: cub 

       Clan: Main DOC 
       Sex: male 
       Age: adult

LGND (Legend)
        Clan: Main DOC 
        Sex: Female
         Age: subadult 

       Clan: KCM 
        Sex: Male
       Age: subadult 

DOGP (dogpile) 
        Clan: KCM 
        Sex: unk
        Age: subadult 

TC (traverse City) 
         Clan: Main DOC
         Sex: male 
         Age: adult 

Now that weve met the contestants, they will be ranked in three categories. Clarity of spots, uniqueness of pattern (the more unique the spots the easier they are to ID), and overall appearance. They will be ranked out of 5 by each of our 4 judges (Allie, research assistant, Connie, grad student, Maggie, grad student, and myself, research assistant). 

   Spots: 2
   Patterns: 1.75
   Overall appearance: 2.75

    Total: 6.5/15

   Spots: 4
   Patterns: 3.6
   Overall appearance: 4.12


   Spots: 1.8
   Patterns: 2.25
   Overall appearance: 4.25

    Total: 8.3/15

    Spots: 4.6
   Patterns: 4.1
   Overall appearance: 4.5

    Total: 13.2/15

   Spots: 3.75
   Patterns: 3.75
   Overall appearance: 4.8

    Total: 12.3/15

   Spots: 1
   Patterns: 1.75
   Overall appearance: 3.5

    Total: 6.25/15

   Spots: 3.5
   Patterns: 4.12
   Overall appearance: 4.8

    Total: 12.67/15

   Spots: 5
   Patterns: 3.12
   Overall appearance: 4.3

    Total: 12.42/15

   Spots: 1.2
   Patterns: 1.5
   Overall appearance: 2.8

    Total: 5.5/15

   Spots: 2.8
   Patterns: 3
   Overall appearance: 4.25

    Total: 10.05/15




The Crippling and Recovery of Rosalina

The month of December was a tumultuous time for Pond clan. Around that time Aquamarine (AQUA) took over the clan from Juno and Guava and (we think) Clementine were both found dead. Another casualty of this period was Rosalina aka LINA.

LINA before she was injured.
LINA, with her sister Goomba, are Carter’s youngest kids currently, and she was fat and adorable. However that all changed on December 17th when I found her at the den with the bottom quarter of her left back leg missing. 

First time LINA seen with her injury

How she lost part of her leg we have no idea. She might’ve lost it from a lion trying to grab her, or from another hyena during AQUA’s takeover. Whatever the cause, things looked extremely grim for LINA’s chances of survival and she became very skinny.

Happily though, spotted hyenas are nothing if not tough, and their ability to survive pretty grievous injuries is well known. For instance, a few years ago in the Mara conservancy there was an adult female hyena who survived with both back legs crippled for nearly a year, long enough to successfully wean her kids. Today while LINA isn’t fully recovered, her wound has healed up well, she’s gained a little more weight, and is starting to explore farther out from the den again. The hope is that if she can survive until the wildebeest come, there will be enough food around to where she might make a nearly full recovery. (recovery photo pending when I see her again.)

Michigan State University | College of Natural Science