Wednesday, May 29, 2019

When lions attack and kill our study hyenas

Today I would like to tell you about some lion-hyena interactions that we witnessed in the field. Both lions and hyenas are dominant carnivores in this ecosystem and they are main competitors for resources. Therefore, lions are one of the main mortality causes for spotted hyenas as they are much larger and stronger than them. However, lions sometimes attack hyenas when they are just resting at their den, even when there is no carcass or food to compete for.

The first story happened about 2 months ago. BRSL and many other hyenas were resting or nursing their cubs at the den in the evening. This den is located in an open plain, with a lugga located a few hundred meters away. That night, 2 big males lions were hiding in this lugga and decided to aggress on the hyenas. BRSL was resting in the grass away from the den, and he didn’t see the lions emerging the bushes and running towards him until the last second (see photo 1). He tried to escape but one of the lions got him (see photo 2). The second lion immediately came and both of them killed BRSL in a matter of a few seconds, with one of them biting his throat (see photo 3). Once BRSL was dead, they chased another hyena (that they hopefully didn’t catch) and they just left him here. The lions stayed around the den with their bloody mouth (see photo 4) and they eventually left. A few days later, the hyenas moved to another den.  

The second story happened a few weeks later, at the new den that the hyenas chose to avoid the lions. We arrived there early in the morning (it was still dark) and a lot of hyenas were resting around the den. All the cubs were also here, 7 of them wandering and playing by the den holes. Some hyenas were quite far away and leaving the session, so we drove away for a few minutes to ID them. When we came back, 3 young male lions were digging into the den trying to catch the cubs that ran back inside. All the adults were bristle tailed and whooping and trying to chase the lions away but still keeping their distances with them. This was so scary and worrying that these lions could catch and kill the cubs that were hiding inside the den holes. Hopefully, they didn’t succeed and they eventually gave up and left.

These 2 stories happened to the same group of hyenas, but with different groups of lions that both attacked them for no reason. Stay safe hyenas!

Photo 1: Lions coming out of the bushes towards BRSL

Photo 2: One of the lions catching BRSL

Photo 3: Lion killing BRSL

Photo 4: The bloody mouth...

Thursday, May 23, 2019

To Kenya, and Back Again

            To all who don’t know me, my name is Lila and I’m the newest RA here at Serena camp! Two years ago I came to Kenya on a study abroad through the MSU Hyena Lab, and fell absolutely in love with the curious and enthusiastic spotted hyenas. And now, just two years later, I’m back to study all of their wonderful comings and goings. Here are just a few of my most recent favorite moments:

NSH, jealous of GOAT and WMEN's cuddles
CAMI and KRKN having the time of their lives playing

SHOT greatly enjoying investigating his own pastes

But it’s not all fun and rainbows, let me tell you. I have been charged by elephants and buffalos, growled at by lions, and nearly been trapped in quite a few downpours. But the photos are spectacular.
            We have quite a few very busy dens here in the Mara Triangle, with even the least busy dens attracting quite a bit of attention from a few sub-adults. And even in South territory, by far our least busy territory, we’ve seen quite a bit of interesting activity, including a Happy Zebra female encroaching near the South and Happy Zebra border. And for all who don’t know, females don’t generally stray to the outskirts of a territory alone, so this was quite an interesting observation.
            Every day I learn more about the hyenas and fall only further in love with their wacky ways. Watching a cub zoom around a den site thwacking into each and every other hyena around is quite the spectacle. And only just yesterday I saw GOLI, a male sub-adult in Happy Zebra attempt to greet HWK, one of our moms at our most busy den, only to have HWK not even turn her head or possibly realize that GOLI was nearly on top of her. I have never laughed so hard at such a fruitless attempt at a male to say hello.
            I can’t wait for the year to continue and to keep learning about these wonderful hyenas, and I more hilarious photos!

Full Names: NSH (Diane Nash), GOAT (Sadie the goat), WMEN (Women's Health), CAMI (Cambrian), KRKN (The Kraken), SHOT (Slingshot), GOLI (Goliath Bird-Eating Spider), HWK (Hawk).

Wednesday, May 15, 2019

A poppin' hyena den

Currently our Happy Zebra clan is, for lack of a better phrase, poppin’ off the rocks. There are currently two active communal dens in the territory, but it’s one in particular that is exceptionally hectic.
Lugga D2 in all its glory. 
Right next to a deep lugga, a gorgeous den site sits. Open and far away from where tour cars stray, we share many private moments with these hyenas. Currently, we know of 13 cubs that are using this site: HWK cubs (WMEN PPL), SGL cubs (RBG NSH), MUON cub (RPSD), RUMG cubs (ARGO NAUT), EREM cub (MSHU), PIKE cub (SHOT) and Slash, Infinity, and Tim, whose mothers we have not yet confirmed. See the end of this post for their full names. We also, VERY excitingly, saw LANC carry a tiny baby to the den (video below) and suspect she has another stashed away. AKA there is a LOT going on.

Managed to take this short clip in the excitement!
When we roll up on this den, it’s never just the 13 cubs present, but usually five or so moms, a few subadults, and maybe a male or two ambling around in the distance.

I’ll paint you a picture of the den session on the morning of May 13th.

At 0602 we arrive. Instantly, we are greeted by RPSD NAUT NSH Infinity and Tim. They know our vehicle well. EREM (a mom) is sacked out by the den. PIKE, the matriarch, isn’t present, but we see her three highest ranking kids, FEMI, MUNG and BARD, running around trying to play with the cubs. Lila and I laugh as we see an adult hyena emerge from a den hole. Our laughs quickly turn into shock as we realize this is LANC...another of PIKE’s cubs. Her being in the den hole was a total shock, as we did not think she had cubs. MUNG and BARD run over to LANC, who submissively open mouth appeases and goes ears back before retreating back into the den.

Cubs nervously grooming FEMI.
Over the next 10 minutes, the rest of the cubs emerge from the many den holes at this site. We watch as the cubs groom one another, play, whoop, and engage in nervous greets with the higher ranking subadults. The best part of these den sessions is watching the aggressions/submissions and how the cubs grow in confidence over time. Tim, originally a timid cub when we first met, now freely aggresses onto the other cubs, and cubs approach him with their ears back. SHOT, PIKE’s baby, is the youngest cub present but has the confidence of a much older cub – exactly what we would expect from a baby of a high-ranking mother. WMEN and PPL act as they usually do, nervous and suspecting of the car, just like their mother.

We see RUMG, a mother, lurking in the distance. We hypothesize she is keeping space to avoid being aggressed on by FEMI MUNG and BARD. As if to confirm our hypothesis, MUON, a low-ranking mother, suddenly arrives and is met by FEMI MUNG and three cubs who all attack her into submission with bristle tail points, stand overs, and bite shakes. RPSD, her baby tries to nurse on hoof for a few seconds. Sadly, MUON leaves as quickly as she arrived L Poor MUON and RPSD.

We spent an hour and a half at the den this morning and there was never a lapse in excitement. We saw a gorgeous sunrise, were able to collect many saliva samples for DNA/hormone analysis, discovered that LANC likely has two cubs, saw many many examples of the dominance hierarchy being learned/implemented, and shared many laughs over hyenas being the silly animals that they are. It was also the first time Serena camp’s newest RA, Lila, transcribed at this crazy den and she did an amazing job. These mornings are never dull and always memorable J

Full names: Hawk (Women's Health and People), Shangri-La (Ruth Bader Ginsburg and Diane Nash), Muon (Bohemian Rhapsody), Why is the Rum Gone? (Argo and Nautilus), Eremet (Mushu), and Pike (Sling shot). Lance, Feminine Wiles, Hunga Munga, and Bardiche also mentioned above.

Wednesday, May 8, 2019

Story from the field: Hyenas vs warthogs!

One of the best things about working in the field as an RA, is that each day is different and you never know what surprise the Mara will bring to you every day. Sometimes, we sit at a den and only few hyenas are there and they are just sleeping and no interaction is going on. But sometimes, the dens are very busy and very entertaining things happen. So today, let me tell you the story between hyenas and warthogs that happened at one of our dens a few weeks ago.

So, this den is a big complex with many holes communicating with each other’s. Both hyenas and warthogs were using those holes and they were very close neighbors. This night, many hyenas including cubs were at the den when warthogs arrived and wanted to go inside these holes. However, AQUA (the matriarch of Pond clan) wasn’t happy about that and started to chase the warthogs away. The warthogs were very determined to reach their holes and kept on coming back, but AQUA was also very determined to not let that happen. She chased them away several times and they kept on coming back, the warthogs were also chasing her away! After a while, we noticed that AQUA has a wound on her hip and that she is bleeding, she got speared by one of them!! When this happened, other hyenas (especially hyena mums) got excited and joined AQUA to chase these warthogs away. At the same time, they were also social sniffing the warthog’s holes, joined by some of the cubs.

At some point, a mom warthog and her baby manage to go through the hyena’s defense and reach their hole! When the hyenas noticed that, they all started to dig into that hole to reach them. The mama warthog got scared and managed to get away from the hole and escape the hyenas, but she left her baby behind… AQUA went right into that hole and dug in there for a good 15mins, being helped by three other hyenas. After some time, we hear some screams coming from inside the hole and we see AQUA coming out… with the baby warthog! She managed to get him inside the hole and she ran away with it to have a well-deserved snack for herself, she was not willing to share!

AQUA, the matriarch of Pond clan. 

Michigan State University | College of Natural Science