Thursday, August 23, 2018

First impressions of the Mara :)

Hi everyone! I am Erin and I am the newest and last RA to arrive in Kenya of this research year. I’m writing this on my 21stday in the Mara and am definitely feeling settled and comfortable here at the Serena site. I’m currently here with fellow RA’s Kate and Jess, who have been training me despite all the hecticness that is camp life, and Maggie a grad student who is unfortunately leaving to head back to the States tomorrow. I’m totally blown away by all the Mara has offered me so far and cannot believe that I get to call this amazing place home for the next year. 

A little background on me, I just graduated from Duke University and despite always being a pre-veterinary student, experienced a change in career when I fell in love with the world of ecology halfway through college. Most of my research experience has taken place at the Duke University Marine Lab and in Turkey studying sea turtles and in South Africa’s Kruger National Park. I actually just returned from a short field stint in the rainforests of Indonesia, which only confirmed for me that I needed to get my butt back to Africa. Truly, upon leaving South Africa, I knew I had to get back to the savanna as soon as possible. It is definitely where I like to call home. 

Three weeks in, I’m here to report that I am totally blown away. This project is so much more than I imagined. 
1.    I am amazed at the amount of responsibility is entrusted in the hands of the RAs. From keeping track of money, to helping run grad projects on the ground, and to going back and forth to Nairobi to get supplies, we certainly are not treated as kids out here!
2.    In just three weeks, I’ve learned more about cars than I have in 22 years of life.
3.    Every person I have met is beyond kind and caring.
4.    The food is ridiculously delicious and I have totally fallen in love with chapati and Sukuma…super thanks to our camp staff, Philimon, Moses, and Stephen. 
5.    I love the hyenas way more than I ever thought I possibly would…which is amazing because I am only 3 weeks in and am just beginning to learn their personalities.

A little more insight on number 5. Before coming out here, I didn’t know much about hyenas. Sure, I knew the classic facts such as how they are extremely social, female dominant, and of course, slightly bizarre (or at least to the lay person) because every member has a phallus…male or female. I had no idea how rich their culture would be. I’ve already gotten to see the classic play behaviors, the dominance hierarchy at bay when food is present or during greetings, and have been lucky enough to see some courtship and pre-mating ritual behavior. I’ve also been SO FORTUNATE to see some very teeny tiny black cubs just recently born! The great migration of wildebeest and zebra is in full swing and the hyenas seem to be very fat and happy as a result. 

I’ve also gotten to see lions a fair amount – which has made me grateful to be studying hyenas ha ha – and am loving the bird life that is everywhere I go. Still looking out for cheetah, rhino, and leopards! Though I’m sure those will come.

That’s the short update for now! Keep me in your thoughts as I continue to attempt to learn 180 hyena spot patterns and try to stay out of the ditches and mud puddles of the Mara. Life is busy, but there is nothing else I’d rather be doing. 


Unknown said...

Nice read and welcome to the Mara.

Kay Holekamp said...

Glad to see you are enjoying life in the Mara on the hyena project!

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