Thursday, November 21, 2019

MVPs of the Month!

Welcome to the latest edition of MVP of the Month! To honor the tremendous amount of work that spotted hyena mothers invest into their offspring, this special edition will focus on some of our best moms (well, kinda...).

Happy Zebra Clan: Coelacanth (COEL)!
COEL was not impressed when she found out that Lila and I marked her as missing.
Happy Zebra is currently in the middle of a cub boom (we have at least 8 little black cubs running around right now!), making this month’s MVP competition incredibly tough. Nonetheless, I’d like to introduce you to this month’s super mom: COEL (Coelacanth)! In fact, Lila and I only met COEL for the first time about a month ago. Since we generally don’t find the bodies of dead hyenas, we mark hyenas that have not been seen in over 6 months as missing/dead. As neither Lila nor I had met COEL by the time our quarterly report in October rolled around, she was automatically marked as missing. After carefully removing her from the clan list, deleting her name from our month-by-month demography spreadsheet, and taking her pictures out of all of our ID binders, however, COEL decided to make a come-back.

One night, Lila and I were surprised to see a mother that neither one of us recognized (slight humble brag, but at this point, both Lila and I are able to ID almost all of our ~180 study hyenas!) when we rolled up to the communal den. Even better? She was nursing two little cubs that were less than a month old – too cute!! Although we were unable to confirm for certain that this mom was COEL (as our ID binders no longer contained her pictures), we both knew deep-down inside that it was her and started thinking of cute cub names that would fit her lineage (geologic time periods). Of course, as soon as we got back to camp, we took out our missing/dead ID binder to confirm. And so, with little OLI (Oligocene) and DEVN (Devonian) by her side, COEL’s come-back truly puts her as the top candidate for the mother’s edition of MVP of the month!

South Clan: Silver Nugget (SNUG)!
As an experienced mother, SNUG knows that breakfast is the most important meal of the day! (PC: Lila, Serena's top wildlife photographer)
If you regularly follow this blog post, you already know that SNUG (Silver Nugget) is one awesome mom! Just last month, Lila and I witnessed her successfully hunting a baby topi for her two cubs, MPRS (Empress Cicada) and SASS (Assassin Bug). Spotted hyenas usually take a long time to fully develop their jaws/bite strength, giving cubs a big disadvantage when it comes to feeding on carcasses with lots of other hyenas around. SNUG, however, made sure that none of the other hyenas present (including some relatively high rankers) even got close to the baby topi while MPRS and SASS slowly took it apart (quick fun fact: this feeding disadvantage for cubs is actually one of the hypothesized reasons for why females are dominant: females help their cubs gain access to kills; males don’t).

Another reason why I think SNUG deserves MVP? I suspect that she may be the new matriarch of South Clan! When JAVA (Java), the former matriarch, died, the whole clan seemed to be falling apart. Former RAs saw both of her daughters, KAPU (Kapuas River) and TOBA (Lake Toba), looking rather beat-up while they were wandering around the territory (generally, one of the matriarch’s daughters will take over as matriarch if anything happens). Since then, South clan became incredibly elusive, especially once the communal den was lost. During my first month out here, I only saw one hyena in the entire territory (HONR, Honor Harrington)!

However, now that Lila and I have found the communal den again, we’ve been able to observe a lot of aggressions/appeasements/general interactions between different clan members, allowing us to slowly piece together the new social dominance hierarchy. Of course, this is incredibly difficult to observe in the field and will likely take a few more months to completely figure out. Nonetheless, neither Lila nor I have seen SNUG being aggressed onto by other hyenas, which could indicate that she may potentially be the matriarch! Stay tuned for more details, but for now, SNUG definitely deserves to be MVP.

North Clan: Clam Chowder (CHOW)!
Ever feel like your parents like your little sibling more than you (shout-out to my older brothers who know the feeling!)? CHOW can relate.
With SOUP (current matriarch), WAFL (Waffles; former matriarch), and JUDE (Hey Jude; unfortunately nowhere close to being matriarch) all raising cubs at the communal den right now, any three of these moms could have easily gotten the title this month. Confession? I planned to give JUDE the title. Until CHOW (Clam Chowder) came along!

Earlier this month, I pulled up to the communal den at 5:36 in the morning to find the entire royal family present: SOUP and her two new cubs were to be expected. However; CHOW and her sister LOBI (Lobster Bisque), SOUP’s older cubs, were there as well. As were the remains of what was possibly a warthog at one point – it was impossible to tell by the time I arrived at the crime scene.

SOUP, truly deserving of the title this month, likely brought back some carcass scraps to the den for her little cubs: SQSH (Squash Bisque) and DASH (Dashi Soup). Throughout the entire session, the two little ones were feeding on the carcass while SOUP aggressed onto anybody who came close to her cubs or the carcass, including LOBI and CHOW. What makes her a great mother, however, was also her greatest downfall. At one point, DISC (Discovery Channel), a mid-ranking subadult, carefully approached the carcass. SOUP was not having any of it! She quickly got up and lunged at DISC, leaving the carcass, and her cubs, unprotected for a split second. CHOW seized the chance!

As the lowest ranker of the family (no need to feel bad, she is still ranked #5 in the entire clan!), it seems like SOUP has all but forgotten about her when SQSH and DASH came along. While SOUP was preoccupied with DISC, CHOW swept in, stole the carcass, and quickly ran away from the den with it! For a minute, it seemed like SOUP would reclaim the carcass, chasing and lunging at CHOW. At this point, CHOW was thoroughly freaked out: she started peeing everywhere while frantically running away from SOUP. Nonetheless, she successfully got away, loping towards the sunrise with her trophy! In the meantime, SOUP decided to merely sack out and spent the rest of the morning relaxing at the den. CHOW is one sneaky hyena, and I love it! So sneaky in fact, that she managed to steal the MVP title from not one, not two, but three deserving North clan moms during this special mom edition. 

BONUS: Top November Sightings!
"Uhm, excuse me... you're looking the wrong way???"

Do cheetahs like belly rubs? Asking for a friend...

This baby rhino was born on October 20th, and brings the total rhino population in the Mara Triangle to 10.

Love is in the air!

Lila is slowly turning into an amateur birder, and she's dragging me along with her...

Morning cuddles with mom <3

Just a reminder that hippos are dangerous!

This is little black-backed jackal is almost fully grown. They grow up so fast!

Meet Gremlin, the dwarf mongoose without a tail that loves to visit us in camp. This is the closest we've come to having a pet.

Saturday, November 9, 2019

Clan wars

Yesterday morning, I went on morning observation with Lila. She was coming back from Nairobi and wanted to come out with me to see our Talek hyenas before going back to her Serena camp. And we were very lucky to witness a clan war between 2 of our clans!

I have been here in the Mara for 10 months now, and I saw 3 clan wars.

The first one was between our Talek West 1 and our KCM clans (our Talek West clan is splitting, so let's call the 2 groups Talek West 1 and Talek West 2). This clan war was big, we had around 30 hyenas on each side. It was very impressive. I remember the hyenas being very loud and whooping a lot. Talek West 1 and KCM were mobbing and chasing at each other, there was a lot of action and it lasted for a good 10 minutes. It happened exactly at the border between the two territories.

RION is a male hyena that was born in Talek West and immigrated into KCM territory a few years ago. He was part of this event, and it was very funny to look at him. Both clans were on their own sides, standing and looking at each other. But RION was standing in the middle and looking to the left, where his mom and family were - and then to the right, where his actual clan was. He looked very confused.

The second clan war that I witnessed happened again between Talek West 1 and KCM, still at the border between the 2 territories, but at a very different location. This time, they were fighting over a carcass. The Talek West hyenas had killed a topi close to the border with KCM, and they got their carcass stolen by KCM hyenas. About 15-20 hyenas participated on both sides. There was also a lot of chasing and whooping going on. The KCM hyenas were successful this time.

About yesterday morning, Lila and I were sitting at one of the dens from Talek West 2, watching cute little black cubs. At some point, one of the moms alarm rumbled and all the hyenas started to run towards the South-West, so we decided to follow them. Most of them stopped on the way (especially the young ones) but some kept on running with the tail up to that direction. We followed them until they reached another group of hyenas, that were mainly from Pond territory. We arrived at the moment when NEON (a female from Talek West 2) stole a tommie carcass from the Pond hyenas.
There were 6 hyenas from both clans participating in the clan war. There were mobbing at each other for a few minutes almost without stopping. Talek West 2 chased Pond who ran away, then Pond chased Talek West 2 who ran away... etc for a few minutes.

When they were done, I went closer to the Pond hyenas and noticed that almost all of them had big bleeding bite marks on their necks, shoulders, and face. It looks like Talek West 2 won that war!

I wish I could have taken photos or videos of this to share here, but I guess I was too busy transcribing to take some. I hope to see at least one more clan war before I head back home in two months, it is always so exciting and entertaining to watch.

This is GREY, a male from Pond territory. He took part in that most recent clan war, and you can see all his bleeding bite marks on his neck, shoulder, and back.

Michigan State University | College of Natural Science