Tuesday, July 2, 2019

Hyena males! An ode to my favorite hyena: Jeep.

Eremet: The first hyena I ever IDed by myself. She was sacked out on the side of the road nursing her baby, Quetzal. Jeep, an immigrant male, was snoozing about 6m from the two of them. I watched as Eremet would get up to pace or readjust. Each time Quetzal would rise, clearly irritated, and begin to squitter for milk. This was pretty adorable, but it was Jeep that captured my attention. He opened his eyes and watched Eremet move. She strayed about 15m from Jeep before lying down. This was apparently too far for him, because he tentatively got up, stretched, and slowly crept back to sack out, again, about 6m from her. His eyes didn't leave her for a few minutes as if he was waiting to see if she'd move again, before shutting them once more. Over the next few weeks we freqeuntly saw Erem and Quetzal at that spot, and inevitably Jeep would also be there, gazing at Erem, but not engaging. He was just...present. How curious.
GAZR (male) stares lovingly at CRIM (a female).

The relationship between immigrant males and the rest of the clan is fascinating. For those unfamiliar with this aspect of hyena behavior, natal males in a clan usually leave around ages 3-5 in search of a new clan to mate. Sometimes males find a clan, hang out for awhile, realize life is too hard and come running home to mommy before seeking out a new clan again. Sometimes males will stop by several clans in before deciding on the one where they will remain. I got to watch little TERV, a South clan natal male, become an immigrant in North clan. We now frequently spot him hanging out with a group of Northies. When a male joins with a new clan, he drops to the absolute bottom of the hierarchy, lower than all the other immigrant males who are already lower than every natal clan member. It's a hard life to be a man (but hey, at least you don't have to give birth through your phallus).

It’s cute to see how the males have built relationships with females. Jeep has worked hard to get Eremet to tolerate him at 6m away, likely with the hopes that he will get the privilege of mating. You might see Erem and Quetzal feeding on the remains of a carcass while Jeep is sacked out 10m away, just watching. I spent much of the year totally enamored by Jeep and his ways. He is a particularly patient hyena.  I loved him so much that I began to be able to identify him just by the way that he walks or the sound of his whoop (I swear I can differentiate his whoop). See the video below for a prime example.
Jeep at Lugga Den (make sure your audio is on).

I absolutely love watching immigrant males interact with the clan. It’s bizarre to me how females seem to be moody with them. Sometimes a mom, like Eremet, will let an immigrant male hang out, while other times, she might run and chase him off even if he’s a good 50m away from the den. I’ve witnessed a group of moms totally tolerating TEMP’s presence, until CAMI, a young female, showed up and ran him off. I swear the other moms raised their head at CAMI when she came trotting back to the den as if to say “unnecessary.” We could still see poor TEMP wandering around about 100m away for the rest of the session. He's a good one...like Jeep. Very patient and the cubs love him.

OMHA (male) tentatively approaching THLS (female). 

I’m choosing to write about immigrant males, in particular Jeep, for my final blog post because it sums up a lot of my sentiments towards these creatures. I arrived not knowing much about hyenas at all. As I studied their behaviors a story began to form. By the end, it was like watching a movie...a movie where you know all the characters, yet the ending is always a surprise. When I first met Jeep, I had no idea what I was witnessing when I saw him sacked out just a few meters away from Eremet. I had no idea that it likely took him years to forge that relationship and that he actively works to earn that privilege. Or for example, take Wallflower, an old North clan immigrant male that all the females love. He has earned the right to come to the den and play with the cubs. I've even seen low ranking females act submissively toward him. He clearly has built a great circle of trust.

Jeep :)
On one of my last obs periods ever, Jeep came around to the den. I could hardly contain my excitement. He approached Eremet delicately, who was nursing her new baby Mushu. Jeep slowly walked around her, pausing only briefly to sniff her side, before sacking out about 6m away. I couldn't help but smile -- I'll miss you guys.

No comments:

Michigan State University | College of Natural Science