Friday, March 29, 2019

Search and Rescue

In the past two months, Serena’s North clan has fallen prey to a string of bad luck in the form of snares. An animal that has been snared is usually very distressed, and in no small amount of danger, until the snare has been removed. We treat these instances very seriously. Warning – some of the photos below might be disturbing to sensitive readers.

The first snaring event was in February. A friend from home was visiting, and on her last game drive in the Mara we noticed 4 tour cars and a ranger near one of our hyenas. Hoping for a carcass or lion-hyena interaction, we rushed over only to find our dear Zimu – only 16 months old – with a snare deeply embedded in his neck. Wire snares of this sort are set by poachers in the hopes of catching an animal to eat, and Zimu was an unfortunate byproduct of this. After a quick meeting with the rangers, we all agreed that we needed to call the Mara vet, Dr. Limu, immediately. He was at Sekenani Gate, several hours away, so we set up to watch over Zimu until the rescue could begin.

Zimu's snare dragged 3m behind him as he walked.
And then he went missing.

We looked away for only a moment when suddenly Zimu was gone. With the vet team on their way, and the potential for Zimu to pull the snare tighter and risk further injury growing with every minute, we called camp for reinforcements and started a frantic search party. Three cars, 4 hyena researchers, 2 rangers, and 1 hour later we found Zimu resting under the exact same bush we had last seen him.
Zimu was left with a lovely green/yellow collar of antibiotic spray
The vet team arrived shortly thereafter and Zimu was quickly darted and his snare removed. It appears that the snare had been embedded in his neck for days, and the wound was severe. After a quick shot of antibiotics and a spray of antibiotic solution (the green spray pictured below), Zimu was up and running! We checked on him periodically for the rest of the week, and can happily say that Zimu is fully healed and healthy once more. Hyenas are incredibly resilient to injuries, and we’re all so thrilled that this dramatic event ended happily.
Zimu healing nicely after his rescue. Photo courtesy of Katherine Steinfield.

Only a few weeks later, we got another call. Katana, son of the Happy Zebra matriarch and now an immigrant male of North clan, was spotted with a snare around his neck. I raced out to search for him, alerting the rangers that we might have another rescue on our hands. Several hours later there was no sign of Katana, and although we continued to search this area for weeks, we couldn’t find him. Just as we were beginning to lose hope – Katana reappeared happy, healthy, and completely snare-free! It seems that the snare on Katana was thinner than the typical snare. This could be a snare meant for a bushbuck or hare. Luckily, this meant Katana was able to break free all on his own.

It's great when we get a reminder of how truly resilient our hyenas are.

Hyena mothers

After nearly a year in the field, I’ve been asked plenty of questions about why on earth I chose spotted hyenas to study (and love). While the reasons why spotted hyenas are absolutely wonderful in every sense of the word are aplenty, my go to answer is always “I love spotted hyenas because spotted hyenas are intense mothers.” I have yet to find a person who isn’t surprised by that answer or that fun tidbit about hyena behavior – and it’s true, spotted hyenas are intense mothers!

Hyena cubs, while they’re born coming into the world fully armed and ready to fight, are heavily dependent on their mothers for the first few years of their life. Their mothers are of course their first food source, but they’re also responsible for introducing them into hyena society, stepping in (and acting as a security blanket) for them when cub play gets too aggressive, showing them the lay of the clan territory, and securing a spot for them at carcasses as the cub(s) begin to enter their den graduation period. This long period of heavy maternal intervention (compared to other mammals) is hypothesized to exist in spotted hyenas because of their feeding ecology and the time it takes for the skull of young hyenas to fully develop. Without a fully developed skull – and without help from mother – it would likely be next to impossible for a young hyena to survive past it’s weaning. Thus, if a mother wants her offspring to survive and in turn increasing her own fitness, it’s pertinent that she’s a good mother.

Meet some of our wonderful mothers from the Talek study clans!

This is LYCO carrying one of her newest cubs, PAFU from her natal den to the Pond clan communal den. Since their arrival at the busy den LYCO has been seen guarding the entrance to the den hole from any pesky older cubs who may want to harass her tiny little beans. During den sessions LYCO never moves further than 3 meters from the entrance to the den and is always there to lovingly greet her cubs when they decide to come out to say hi to the rest of the world.

This is PCES and her daughter LSKA. PCES is a caring mother through and through, and is often seen still spending quality time with her nearly adult daughter MISU. Whenever we stumble upon PCES and LSKA together, PCES is almost always nursing – and unlike many other mothers, won’t get up and disrupt her cub’s nursing upon our arrival. PCES encourages her daughter's curiosity and always makes sure she says hello to us when we pull up to a den session.  
Here is AQUA nursing her newest litter of cubs, ALBA and VELA, at her natal den. Being offspring of the Pond matriarch, these cubs have a privileged upbringing. AQUA is one of our most successful mothers and very rarely loses cubs. AQUA allows her cubs to investigate the world by themselves, she is very far from a helicopter mother. But she’ll always intervene if she feels things are escalating too quickly, whatever they may be, and being the matriarch, everyone around makes sure to listen.


HEL is a Talek legend. An old matriarch, overtaken by her daughter, and now likely acting as “queen grandmother” to the new matriarch. In addition, she’s successfully raised over 10 offspring to adulthood, and is still mothering new cubs. PITU and YUNI are her newest litter and growing up quick and strong. HEL is always around to make sure they know their ways around their territory, provides them with their own juvenile Thomson's gazelles to munch on, and ensures that at a crazy carcass session that there is more than plenty of room for her two youngest to feed. 

Wednesday, March 6, 2019

Fisi Fitness -- we workout.

So many of my friends and family from home ask what we do in our spare time out here in the Mara. Of course, we read lots of books and watch the occasional movie after evening obs. Sometimes we treat ourselves to a coffee break at the lodge during the day and surround ourselves with tourists to feign being "close to reality” for an hour or so. However, the main way we spend free time during the day is by engaging in some good ol’ fisi fitness.

Jess and I are the local health and fitness experts out here. Now, that’s not to say that our lifestyles are exactly the most healthy, but we read up and discuss a healthy lifestyle enough that I’m certain it must be rubbing off (mental 6-packs for sure).

Jess: Near dead from exhaustion.
Now, that’s not to say we don’t try our best. Our lifestyles out here are pretty sedentary — makes sense when you can’t go for a walk or hike for fear of running into an elephant/buffalo/hippo/lion/you name it — and we are literally professional sitters. We sit for obs, we sit to eat, we sit to type up our notes---we sit. We also eat VERY well courtesy of the best chefs in the world: Philimon, Moses, and Stephen. Thus, we sit, we eat, we do hyena related activities while sitting--you get it. 0 complaints from all except my muscle mass, but hey, a tiny price to pay to live in this environment.

So, fisi fitness. Our saving grace. That one hour chunk of the day where we kick it into gear enough to exhaust us completely. Not so hard, especially because we workout around 1 pm — the hottest portion of the day.

Jess and I fashioned a .33 mile "loop" (really it’s just 0.165 one way and then 0.165 back on the other side of the path). Provided it has not rained, we run somewhere between 1-4 miles each day.

Apparently we aren't the only ones running on our track!

We came up with a schedule. We hit a leg day, arm day, ab day, and butt day. After running a couple miles, we might do circuits we made up or follow along a fitness video from YouTube. Once a week we do Yoga to stretch it all out...and our favorite, dance cardio. Now, dance cardio was Jess’s idea, not mine, and is easily one of the most embarrassing things I’ve ever done (we hide while we do this). I refuse to put a video on the web to spare myself from public humiliation — but let’s just say my moves are certainly not on fleek.

Working out and moving like this keeps us sane out here and I’m so grateful for the best workout buddy, Jess. It’s not so bad running this little loop with the most beautiful view of the Mara in the backdrop or doing circuits while the birds sing above your heads! Living out here has certainly showed me that if I can workout in 90 degree heat on a tiny running loop, I’ll never have an excuse to not exercise ever again (you hear that Erin?).
Running views!

Michigan State University | College of Natural Science