Saturday, April 28, 2018

Paste Trials

 I have now been in the Mara for almost 2 months! Where did the time go, you ask? I am asking myself that same question. I woke up and all of a sudden, it was the end of April. Do you ever wake up and feel like your whole life has gone by?

No, actually, I am happy to say that I have started my field project; the very thing I came here to do! And boy, has it been an adventure! Who knew so many problems would arise, ha! For my field project, I am conducting scent-discrimination trials where I basically present hyenas with the scent gland secretions (paste) of 2 other hyenas they have never met. I smear the paste on the tops of two, thick wooden sticks, hammer them into the ground, and then videotape the interactions. We think that these scent gland secretions, which are most likely synthesized with the help of bacteria, encode information about the hyena; such as their sex, age, and social group. Back at camp, I review the videos and record the amounts of time hyenas spend sniffing each of the sticks. If at the end, hyenas smell one of the sticks (paste) more, then that would suggest that the sticks are not the same and are indeed encoding different information.

It has been extremely fun to conduct these trials! The cubs are highly entertaining! They get really interactive with the sticks; not only do they sniff them, but they also bite them, and rub against them. On one occasion, they completely removed the sticks from the ground and ran off with them (bye, bye, stick!). That stick became their new favorite toy (Awww!). I thought, hmm, maybe the sticks are too thin, so I bought thicker sticks that I have been really hammering into the ground. This has worked; the cubs have not been able to take them, except now, the subadults are taking them 🙃 🙃 🙃. Bless their hearts. Can’t blame them; they are curious about the actual stick and the scents of these 2 hyenas they have never met before! Addressing this issue is currently one of the things I am working on. Another issue I need to work on is getting more adult participation. They usually come late into the evening, but so far, rain has forced us to terminate the trials early. I hope that once these rains leave, I can conduct my trials more frequently and stay out longer; increasing my chances of encountering adults. I’ll have to get creative about where I position the sticks as well 🤔 🤔 🤔.

Here is a hyena cub sniffing my sticks:

Here is another getting close and personal with these sticks: 

And lastly, here are 2 cubs running off with the sticks(!!):

Overall, the field work has been fun! What else has been fun? Seeing all of the animals, getting to know the staff, RAs and grad students here, watching 30 Rock, stuffing my face with French toast (my favorite), sleeping in, getting fancy juices at the lodge, and sharing my experience with my family via the pictures I take 😊 😊 😊.

Well, that’s it for today!

Wednesday, April 25, 2018

Rainy season visitors: updated

            The rainy season is in full force, and with it have come strong jawed creatures to invade our space. Siafu, or safari ants, have been busy building tunnels all around camp. While these guys are famous for invading tents and swarming hapless researchers in their sleep, Serena camp has so far escaped this fate (knock on wood).

As long as none of the soldiers get their pincers in you, it’s quite fascinating to watch the ants build their tunnels.

            Another creature with impressive jaws has invaded our crossings, the crocodile. “Pile of Rocks”, usually a bumpy but dry way to cross Mugorro lugga, has been flooded for the past few weeks. Crocodiles have taken advantage of this and have moved in from the Mara river. We discovered this yesterday while trying to forge the crossing. Kecil responded to the surprise by saying “I refuse to run over a crocodile”, and we took another way home.

The crocodile that tipped us off to just how high the lugga had flooded.
           The rains just keep coming, and with them come a third powerful creature, hippos. Not only have they invaded "Pile of Rocks" Crossing, they've even invaded "Candy Cane Bridge", the bridge we took to avoid "Pile of Rocks" when the crocodiles became too much. 

See those red poles? Those mark the bridge, which the hippos are currently swimming over!
       Despite these new dangers, it’s been fascinating to watch the way the Mara changes with the rains. I wouldn’t miss it for the world.

The escarpment has become a magnet for rain and fog. 

Tuesday, April 24, 2018

Snared: A TRU Story

***Warning: These images show a severely wounded hyena. Viewer discretion is advised.***

On March 12, Maggie and I were driving around South territory when we came across Trumain (or TRU), one of our adult females. She was laying down, and didn't look at us when we drove up to her. We were horrified to discover that she had a snare around her stomach. 
Trumain when we first saw her with the snare.

This is the first snared hyena I have seen while in the Mara Triangle, and it is likely an old snare that poachers forgot about. We do not think it was a deliberate snaring, rather an old snare that Trumain came across while she was out and about.

We immediately called Talek camp, where Benson, one of the research assistants, is registered to dart hyenas. We got permission from the Mara Conservancy (the managing orangization for the Mara Triangle), and arranged for Benson, Mary, and Leah from Talek camp to come over the next day to try and dart Trumain to remove the snare.

We got up early on March 13 to drive around South territory, but we were unable to find Trumain that day. Spirits were waning, as the wound looked deep and could have cut into her body wall cavity. Hyenas can heal from a lot, but that would have been a major injury. The next day Maggie, Leah, Mary, Benson and I all got up and drove around South. We took three cars to maximize the area covered, and brought breakfast so we could eat in the car. Time was short; if we didn't find her by ten in the morning, it would likely be too late to dart her, as the hyenas need a long time to recover before night comes.

Just as we were about the give up, it happened! Mary, Leah, and Benson spotted her from across a lugga. Benson darted her using Telosol. We cut the snare and applied Grabacin, a powder to keep away dirt and germs, to the wound. Then, since she was darted anyway, we took blood and other biological samples to genotype Trumain and learn about her genetics.  After all of that, we left her under a bush to recover. 

Maggie and I went to check on her later that night, and were delighted to find her walking around gnawing on a skull.

Eating after the darting.

In the days that followed we continued to keep an eye out for Trumain. It is possible to go weeks without seeing a hyena, so we knew that it was possible that she could be off at the edge of the territory recovering. But we still wanted to see her and make sure she was healing.

On March 28, we finally saw her again. Trumain looked great. She was muddy, but her wounds looked like they had begun to heal. Her right side still has a cut on it, but it didn't seem to be bleeding, and her right side looked good. These are amazing signs, and hopefully she will be able to make a full recovery, although she will have an impressive scar for a long while.

TRU on March 28, two weeks after the darting.

Michigan State University | College of Natural Science